Carers, Owen & Godknows Go Elephant Tracking with Elephants Alive

March 23, 2021

“But perhaps the most important lesson I learned is that there are no walls between humans and the elephants except those we put up ourselves, and that until we allow not only elephants, but all living creatures their place in the sun, we can never be whole ourselves.” ― Lawrence Anthony

It was time to bring down the walls even more... to take a step into new corners of wilderness where Africa's elephants roam. Having worked and lived beside elephants for many, many years, our elephant carers, Owen and Godknows are very familiar with the species, not only the rescued elephants of the Jabulani herd but also the wild herds they encounter daily. But they hadn’t spent much time up-close with wild bulls in full musth in particular. You can live a lifetime beside an elephant and still find something new to open your heart to every day.

An exciting chance came for Owen and Godknows to learn not only more about bulls in musth in the wild but also about the incredible research efforts employed in the field of elephant conservation to gather data and help the species in new and different and vital ways.

The wonderful people at Elephants Alive invited our carers and team to have an experience with their rangers and the wild elephants that they have collared and monitor in the Great Limpopo Transfrontier Park in South Africa. Owen and Godknows took the opportunity to join in and headed into the bush with the Elephants Alive team.

“If elephants are to survive, we need scientific knowledge and an intimate understanding of their movements and needs. We work towards achieving a greater understanding of the complex relationships that elephants have with each other and their surroundings, including the people with whom they share their world.” - Elephants Alive

Elephants Alive’s mission is to ensure the survival of elephants and their habitats and to promote harmonious co-existence between man and elephants. Their work relies on intensive research through collaring elephants, which contributes towards the long-term survival of the African elephant and maintaining the vital diversity of our world.

Since 1998, the team has been collaring elephants in the Kruger National Park and in the Association of Private Nature Reserves, adjacent to Kruger, in South Africa – as well as in the Limpopo National Park in Mozambique.

Their long term tracking study has resulted in a critical, wide landscape understanding of elephant movements in the Great Limpopo Transfrontier Park, (spanning South Africa, Mozambique and Zimbabwe), to inform the conservation management of one of southern Africa’s largest and most important elephant populations.

We were so excited for Owen and Godknows to get a new window into the lives of elephants in a different part of South Africa, and to learn more about the research being done to help protect the species.

Godknows shared a few highlights with us below!

“It was amazing seeing elephants from a different perspective. All of the bulls were in musth, but they were very calm surprisingly. The ranger told us that only one of the bulls, the biggest one, tends to be a bit aggressive when in musth, but the rest were quite calm. Only one of the bulls tried to be funny with us while we were watching him from the vehicle – he came right up to us and attempted to bump the vehicle, but when the ranger shouted 'stop', he stopped!”

“We went all the way to the Kruger, not deep inside it, but just to the boundary area and we found the oldest bull, named Classic. They say he is in his fifties, he was very big and has a broken tusk.” - Godknows

“We got the chance to help gather research and see how it’s done, by filling out forms, and collecting information while we tracked the elephants and observed them. Information such as: how the elephant looks, its behaviour, where it is feeding, the type of vegetation around it. Is it a river area, normal bush or open field? We had to look for anything unusual like an elephant scratching more than usual, or in an abnormal area on its body, to determine if there may be something wrong. We looked for wounds, signs that it may have been in a fight. The information gathered is sent to the office and used to feed into the database to track the elephants, which they do every three days."

“We tracked the bulls mostly. With the female breeding herds, the research is more general – looking at the size of the group, vegetation and habitat, what are they doing, are the moving, resting, etc. Mostly bulls are collared and tracked though.”

“The experience helped me to understand bulls more, especially when it comes to musth, because we haven’t witnessed a full musth with our bulls so it showed me what it’s like. It was an eye-opener, quite an experience, to witness the swollen temporal glands and secretions and the dribbling of the urine. I’ve never seen that, it was the first time and the smell was so strong. You can probably pick it up from 50 metres away. I don’t know how to explain it, but it’s very strong, totally different!”

It was wonderful to have Godknows and Owen return to the HERD team afterwards to share their insights and experience with us and all the carers, and to feel their enthusiasm as they shared the tales and photographs – the elephants swimming and coming up to the car, spotting a leopard in the bush, the great tusks of the big bulls, the musth behaviour!

We’re grateful for our relationships and partnerships with different elephant voices and people working to support the never-ending task of elephant conservation on the ground.

Thank you to everyone at Elephants Alive for making our team feel so welcome and for sharing your experiences with us in the name of this magnificent species.

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