|Elephants within the Kruger National Park|
The working hypothesis for this project is that African elephants (Loxodonta Africana) are being drawn towards a mining area just outside the Kruger National Park in South Africa, due to the unique geochemistry of the area. Previous studies have suggested that the soil in areas surrounding the mine, and associated plant and elephant faecal samples may be low in minerals such as phosphorus, causing a deficiency in the plants, and driving the elephants to seek these minerals elsewhere. It is therefore thought that the elephants may be attracted to the mining area due to the mineral provision in the plants, soil and water. Unfortunately, elephant incursion into the mine and nearby human settlements has resulted in human-elephant conflict, causing risk of injury and loss of income. It is hoped that the results of the project may help to inform key locations in the elephants’ home range where mineral-supplemented forage or mineral licks may be placed to reduce the drive to seek additional sources of minerals, thereby reducing human-elephant conflict.
|African elephants on land next to direct mine site|
The project is very fortunate to have access to banked blood and tail hair samples from the Kruger National Park BioBank, collected opportunistically from elephants within the Kruger National Park, banked tail hair, toenail and blood samples from collared elephants monitored by Elephants Alive (EA), as well as tracking data from seven animals collared by EA on the mine site. These data greatly inform elephant movement and thus the sampling strategy for environmental sampling in the area, as well as providing a baseline level for minerals in African Elephants (Loxodonta Africana). I am very much looking forward to processing and analysing these samples in the coming months and pairing the data with the appropriate environmental samples.
I would like to thank the fantastic field team and especially our game guard Desmond who gave great reassurance during long bush walks – his knowledge and experience was phenomenal. I would also like to thank all of the staff at SAEON who gave up vast amounts of time to assist with fieldwork, scientific services and Peter Buss & the veterinary department at SANParks (KNP) and collaborator Michelle Henley from Elephants Alive.
I would like to take this opportunity to extend my thanks to all five of the UK zoos which have assisted with this project to date; Colchester Zoo, Knowsley Safari, Twycross Zoo, Noahs Ark Zoo Farm and ZSL Whipsnade Zoo, to all the elephant keepers for collecting the samples and acting as an endless bank of knowledge for the animals they care for, the vet and research teams for assisting with logistics, and of course the elephants themselves. I am enormously excited to visit each zoo in the coming year and explain the results obtained, to provide a profile of the mineral status of each animal and hopefully give the zoos valuable data, to aid them in continuing to advance the captive care of these phenomenal animals.