Elephant collaring signals next step back to the wild

Collaring the elephants c.IFAW

Last week was a busy one for the Elephant Orphanage Project (EOP) team at the Kafue Release Facility as five orphans from the release herd were fitted with satellite tracking collars.

Chamilandu (11yrs), Batoka (9yrs), Tafika (8.5yrs) and Maramba (7yrs) were all fitted with new and improved GPS tracking collars manufactured by ‘Vetronics Aerospace’.

EOP Manager, Rachael Murton explains: “Being the oldest elephants at the Kafue Release Facility they have all started to show signs of wanting independence from the orphan herd. The new collars will track the elephants movements during times when they’ve decided to separate from the herd, and will display the activity on a mapping programme accessed via the internet. It also allows us to real-time track them using VHF radio telemetry.”

Chamilandu’s old GPS collar was fitted on Zambezi (5.5yrs). Although still young, Zambezi has sometimes wandered away from the herd and has a very independent nature, so the collar will allow the keepers to quickly retrieve him if he goes too far from the herd.

“We were assisted by a large team of specialists including members of the Department of National Parks and Wildlife (DNPW) led by Dr. David Squarre the Head of Veterinary and SKNP Warden Kasempa, along with Dr’s. Ian and Noleen Parsons of Matobo Vet Centre,” adds Rachael. “Also present were our partners from IFAW led by Katie Moore, Director of Animal Rescue and Project Manager Sheena Dale. Dr Geerdes of GRI-Wildlife Veterinary Project was also in support of the operation and facilitated the addition of some newly qualified local vets who attended the collaring exercise for training and capacity building.  Each of the five elephants had a dedicated team responsible for monitoring vitals, collecting samples and, of course, fitting the all important collars. Everything went according to plan, with all elephants responding well to the anaesthesia and were back on their feet in under 45 minutes.”

Collaring is a vital milestone in the release process of the orphans as it allows the team, through remote ‘Post Release Monitoring’ (PRM), to identify any potential risks in their movement away from the facility. It provides information to evidence the best possible transition into the wild and a successful release/reintegration i.e. to ensure they are foraging as wild elephants do, moving in the same areas as the wild population and eventually monitoring their reproductive success.

“We would like to extend huge thanks to everyone involved in particular John Myers for donating and flying in the Matobo Vets; DNPW and Matobo Vets; IFAW who funded three of the GPS collars; ProWildlife who funded one of the GPS collars; Ongoing technical support from the IFAW team (especially Miguel de Gabriel Hernando) with PRM, GIS Mapping and analysis,” adds Rachael.

Working to rescue, rehabilitate and return orphaned elephants to the wild is a long-term project with every step as vital as the last. Post Release Monitoring is essential to ensure that the ten years of investment put into each orphan is turned into long-term success.

DSWF would like to thank everyone who has helped support the orphans on their journey’s back to the wild from teams in the field, fellow NGOs and of course, our donors.

To find out more about the programme and to support this vital work click here

Collaring the orphan elephants in Zambia
Images courtesy of IFAW