Elephant research in Chizarira, Zimbabwe

by African Lion & Environmental Research Trust
Elephant research in Chizarira, Zimbabwe

Chizarira National Park (1,910km²) is found in the Sebungwe district (15,529km²) of Zimbabwe and encompasses various National Parks (Chizarira, Hwange, Matusadona), Safari Areas (Matetsi, Chirisa and Chete), and surrounding Communal Lands.  The total elephant population in Sebungwe is 3,407; a 75% reduction of the population over a number of years (Figures from the Zimbabwe National Elephant Management Plan 2015-2020).

Initially, ALERT’s research on elephants in Chizarira will be to obtain base-line data on the population so that future elephant demographics can be compared to reliable data.

For this research, elephants are darted and fitted with satellite collars allowing the ALERT research team to track them remotely and on foot.  Information such as movements (daily and seasonal), herd numbers and sex composition are important in understanding a population.

Collaring elephants is no easy feat and takes days of tracking them on foot in order to find and identify appropriate individuals to collar to achieve the results needed. Recently the ALERT team spent over 5 days tracking elephants in the hopes of collaring two more individuals to increase the data set. Unfortunately, although many signs of elephants were observed, we were not able to locate an appropriate elephant to collar this time. The female that was collared in August last year (2019) is giving good data on movements within the park and also shows forays that they make into the Communal lands (see map).  It is this kind of data that will help the National Park Authority to better manage this decreasing elephant population in the future.

Hopefully we will have more positive news in the next progress report so keep in touch.


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ALERT & Park staff after 1st elephant collaring
ALERT & Park staff after 1st elephant collaring

Chizarira National Park (2,000km2) is an isolated and wild Protected Area situated in the north of Zimbabwe.  Four of the Big 5 wildlife species are found here including elephant, lions, leopards and buffalo.

In order to assist the National Park Authorities to manage the wildlife in this park, ALERT is carrying out a number of research and monitoring projects so that the park management understands the dynamics of the wildlife population that they are called upon to protect.

The elephant research project was initiated in September, 2019 by ALERT with the National Park Authority as a partner, since no monitoring or research work has been carried out in the park since 1978 and there was no data on the status of the population and whether any management interventions were needed.

PROGRESS

Due to financial constraints only one collar has been fitted to date. A female in a herd of 30 other elephants (with 8 calves) was darted and collared on 18th September 2019.  Since that time the herd has been monitored both through GPS fixes and on the ground using the VHF function on the collar.

Sexing the herd which fluctuates between 30 and about 60 animals has not been completed due to the thick bush that they move in but the research team is working towards obtaining herd structure.

Initially the herd moved in the Mabola-Kaswiswi area, but as the dry season progressed they were concentrated around the Bimba, Manzituba and Kasanzi areas where there are perennial springs. When the rainy season started the herd started moving away from this core area and at one stage were found outside of the park (which does not have fences) in the adjoining Communal land. Fortunately they did not stay there and returned to the park.

The data that we are collecting from this one herd is invaluable but we need to collar individuals in other herds to get a better idea of the distribution and status of the elephant population in the park. Elephants are a vulnerable species and the only way to manage them efficiently is to know more about the population (distribution, age and sex ratios, calf recruitment and success, movements, foraging areas, food preference, vegetation destruction, level of threats, etc).

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Movement data of collared elephant to date.
Movement data of collared elephant to date.

The elephant research initiated by ALERT with Zimbabwe Parks and Wildlife Management as a partner is the first elephant collared in the Sebungwe region this century. The elephant cow named “Nyasha” is part of a herd of 30 animals and the data being collected on her movements, core areas and feeding preferences are tied in with the objectives of the Zimbabwe Elephant Management Plan 2015-2021.


Nyasha has been actively tracked via VHF and GPS over the past two months. The research on this herd has already yielded interesting preliminary data such as home ranges, population dynamics and habitat use, but much more data is needed before the status and condition of the elephant population is known. As can be seen, by the map, Nyasha is utilizing the mid-northern part of the park. With more collars, we will be able to obtain meaningful data of the elephant populations within the whole Park and will be in a position to advise the Parks Authority on conservation measures.


This herd of elephants has not gone out of the Park into the surrounding communal lands to date. Part of the research is to establish the occurrence of any Human elephant conflict incidences outside of the Protected Area and to define traditional elephant migratory corridors

ALERT researcher Anele picking up a VHF signal fro
ALERT researcher Anele picking up a VHF signal fro
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Due to a lower than expected level of funding the African Lion and Environmental Research Trust has not been able to provide any supplies for this project.

 

We hope to improve the success of our fundraising efforts in order to help the elephant of Chizarira National Park, we hope you will help us along the way. We will be pushing this project on social media over the next few months, in an attempt to bring the campaign to the attention of new donors who want to help conserve the National Parks elephant.

ALERT is aiming to considerably increase the amount of funds raised for this project. As we see the conservation of the reedbuck in Chizarira National Park as a worthwhile project, ALERT has attempted to collar elephants at Chizarira already however the attempts were unsuccessful, but the project must go on.

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Organization Information

African Lion & Environmental Research Trust

Location: London - United Kingdom
Website:
Facebook: Facebook Page
Twitter: @lionsinafrica
Project Leader:
Stuart Armstrong
London, United Kingdom
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