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Makuleke Transboundary Elephant Movements

Dr. Steven and Michelle Henley, Chris Roche and Walter Jubber

  • Reliable observation data suggests that the elephants within the Makuleke Concession, in the far northern Kruger NP, exhibit clear seasonal differences in numbers. Occurrences are substantially higher in the dry season compared with the wet season. Movements out of the Concession area in the wet season are poorly understood, but it is assumed that the elephants move both southward within the Kruger NP and northward into Zimbabwe. The latter movement is obviously of relevance to the design of the Sengwe Corridor and the successful development of the Great Limpopo Transfrontier Park.

    The Great Limpopo Transfrontier Park will eventually link the Limpopo National Park in Mozambique, Kruger National Park in South Africa, Gonarezhou National Park, Manjinji Pan Sanctuary and Malipati Safari Area in Zimbabwe, as well as two areas between Kruger and Gonarezhou, namely the Sengwe communal land in Zimbabwe and the Makuleke region in South Africa. This will all hopefully give elephants far larger home ranges in which they can move.

  • The primary objectives are: to make a meaningful contribution toward the appropriate design of the Great Limpopo Transfrontier Park, and to develop insights into the seasonal distribution patterns of elephants in and around the Makuleke Concession. This research will no doubt contribute toward a wider study of elephant movement and range use patterns along the western and eastern borders of the Kruger NP.

    Elephant movements and range use patterns will be determined by using GPS-satellite collars. Training of Wilderness Safaris guides to collect photos and data on individual elephants commenced in February 2008 and collars were fitted during the late winter months when elephant densities are highest. The data on the movements of the collared elephants will be added to the already planned maps of all the animals that have been collared by Save the Elephants across Africa and which will be hosted on the Google Earth website.

     

  • The reason for adding the Makuleke area to the research sites is to include an area of natural seasonal dispersal and apparent migration from a formally protected area like Kruger into a community area such as in south-eastern Zimbabwe, where hunting and other pressures exist and where Human-Elephant conflict can be ascertained. This will no doubt further contribute to the understanding of Kruger's elephants.

    The appropriate location of the corridor linking Gonarezhou NP to the other protected areas is of particular importance and it is hoped that by collaring elephants in the Makuleke area will answer some questions as to their seasonal movements. To be successful, this corridor must meet the needs of the wildlife species it is designed for, and at the same time minimise the risk of conflict between these animals and peoples inhabiting the area.

  • December 2012
    This month we provide some sobering statistics on elephant poaching and also highlight the cross-border movements of elephants into Zimbabwe amongst our usual inserts.

    Please click here for the full report.

    July 2012
    The elephant cow known as Zingi came back to Pafuri overnight in July after eight months spent in Zimbabwe – 80% of the time in Gonarezhou National Park.

    We have been very eager to re-collar this cow this season given her movements but she has been inaccessible in Zimbabwe. We switched the GPS fixes to just one a day so that if she stayed in Zimbabwe for longer we could get more battery life out of the collar. This means that we only have a point for her at 07h00 yesterday (in south eastern Gonarezhou) and one again at 07h00 this morning, at Crooks Corner.

    This means we will be able to recollar her more easily and hopefully get more detailed information about her movements between Kruger/Makuleke (she moves as far south as south of Punda Maria) and Gonarezhou (she has moved as far north as the northern area of Gonarezhou).

    Click here for the map.

    June 2012
    Facilitated by Chris Roche from the Wilderness Safari Trust, but sponsored by Jerry and Madeleine Cohen, four new collars were deployed in Pafuri this month and we now have Sarita and Mapimbi back on our screens. The positions of the nine collared elephants within the Pafuri-Makuleke Consession of the Kruger National Park indicate that the majority are staying within the northern section of KNP with the exception of Zingi, who is still in Gonarezhou National Park (Zimbabwe) and Nwambi who has made his way south after spending sometime around the Luvuvhu River.

    Click here for the map.

    May 2012
    The positions of seven elephants that were collared within the Pafuri - Makuleke Concession of the KNP are shown with the exception of Zingi, who is still in Gonarezhou National Park (Zimbabwe). The majority are staying within the northern section of KNP whilst Nwambi made his way north, reaching the Luvuvhu River before heading back south to the Punda Maria area. Mondli is now back on Google Earth after being fitted with a new collar at the beginning of the month.

    Sponsored by SABS and Wildcon.

    Click here for the map.

    April 2012
    The positions of six elephants that were collared within the Pafuri - Makuleke Concession of the KNP, indicate that with the exception of Zingi, who is still in Gonarezhou National Park (Zimbabwe), the majority are staying within the northern section of KNP whilst Nwambi has slowly started to make his way north west from within the central section of the LTP. Mac is enjoying his area of choice in central KNP, only moving a little further south this month. At the time of writing we have noticed that Mac is rapidly moving south for his annual musth cycle! In our next report we will show you how far and wide he has roamed while in musth.

    Click here for the map.

    March 2012
    The positions of six elephants that were collared within the Pafuri - Makuleke Concession indicate that with the exception of Zingi, who is still in Gonarezhou National Park, the majority are staying within the northern section of KNP whilst Nwambi is still showing movements within the central section of the LNP.  Mac is enjoying his area of choice in Central KNP, not venturing far over the last month.

    Click here for the map.

    February 2012
    The positions of seven elephants collared within the Pafuri - Makuleke Concession area indicate that with the exception of Zingi, who is still in Gonarezhou National Park. The majority are staying around the Luvuvhu River. Nwankwimbi has returned to Pafuri after spending last month in LNP whilst Bvekenya and Nwambi are still showing movements within the central section of the LNP.

    Click here for the map.

    January 2012
    The positions of six elephants collared within the Pafuri - Makuleke Concession area indicate that they have all, with the exception of Zingi, moved south of the Limpopo River. We have currently lost signal for Bvekenya, but Nwambi is still showing movements within the central section of the LNP. Nwankwimbi has also ventured into Mozambique this month, with movements recorded in the northern section of LNP. Zingi is still in the Gonarezhou, although she has made her way down to the south-eastern boarder of the park. Mac is still enjoying his area of choice in central Kruger, not venturing far over the last month.

    Click here for the map.

    December 2011
    The positions of seven of the twelve elephants collared in the concession indicate that most of these elephants, with the exception of Mangala and Nwankwimbi, have now moved away from the vicinity of the Limpopo River. Most significantly, Zingi has ventured far north of the river entering Zimbabwe. Nwambi and Bvekenya are also showing us some exciting movements as they move through the KNP and Mozambique.

    Click here for the map.

    August 2011
    Since we only have 6 functioning collars left on the Makuleke elephants we’ll be doing slightly different updates going forward so long as the collars last.

    Attached the movements of the 3 remaining bulls and the 3 remaining cows for the period 27 August to 7 September.

    BULLS
    • Jabulani continues to explore the military corridor to the west of Manjedza. You can assume that as a younger bull he chooses to use this area since it is likely to have less competition with other bulls.
    • Nwambi – the oldest collared bull has shown a reliance on the Luvuvhu River with regular movements back to it to drink after moving south to feed. He now seems to be moving south.
    • Mapimbi – the youngest collared bull seems to have become independent of his natal herd and is maybe following Nwambi as a mentor (unless of course Mapimbi is still with a herd and Nwambi is following the herd). His movement into Mozambique downstream from Crooks’ Corner is interesting.


    COWS
    • Colleen moved from Mabyeni/Spokonyolo via Mashikiri, Mashisiti and Hutwini to show a heavy reliance on the Luvuvhu in the Hutwini / Mangala area.
    • Agnes has shown dependence on both the Luvuvhu and Limpopo in the eastern parts of the Makuleke area with movements away from the floodplain to feed in the mopane before returning to drink.
    • Zingi has finally returned to the Makuleke area. She had wandered deep into Zim north of the Nuanetsi River then streaked back to south of Punda Maria and spent several months in the south of her range before finally returning. Her herd has used the Limpopo floodplain from Machindzweni through Hulukulu to Makwadzi. She is currently in the Spokonyolo / Mabyeni area having moved there in a big loop via the general areas of Ndaekezane and Mashikiri Springs. It will be interesting to see what use is made of the Banyini/Tshikuya area.

    Click here for the map.

     Two year summary and maps - 2009 - 2011
    Some of the collars have stopped functioning for some reason or other, and will be removed shortly.

    Location points are represented by dots in four different colours representing four different seasons … i) wet, ii) wet-dry transition, dry, iv) dry-wet transition. 

    COWS
    • Average number of data points = 1782 (range: 713-2164)
    • Average duration = 21.5 months (range: 13-25)
    • 5 of the cows show a very clear seasonal distribution trend with concentrated movements between the Limpopo and Luvuvhu Rivers during the dry season and southward emigration of varying degrees during the wet season. Within this pattern Nwamkwimbi, Mangala and Agnes showed very similar movements along the eastern boundary of the KNP with Mozambique (Agnes crossed this boundary regularly), while Colleen showed a strong concentration on the western boundary along the Luvuvhu with Makuya and even some excursions beyond this into the military corridor. The limited data (13 months) for Sarita suggests a similarity to Nwankwimbi, Mangala and Agnes. Thus – it is clear that at least two extended clan groups are involved here.
    • The 6th cow, Zingi, showed entirely different movements with a very different dry season concentration to the others far further south. Her herd also wandered further south than the others and demonstrated one major excursion into the military corridor far north into Zimbabwe crossing the Bubye and Nuanetsi Rivers during the wet season. Zingi’s movements suggest that we have been able to assess the relationship of at least three cow clan groups to the Makuleke area.

    BULLS
    • Average number of data points = 1647 (range: 993-2166)
    • Average duration = 25.5 months (range: 22-34)
    • Like the cows, the bulls showed a strong seasonal pattern of movement that for the most part saw concentrated movements between the Limpopo and Luvuvhu Rivers during the dry season and southward emigration of varying degrees during the wet season. This southward movement was far more exaggerated than the cows with one animal, Gila, moving south of the Letaba River on one occasion, while others, Mapimbi, Nwambi, Bvekenya and Mondli, used aspects of the Shingwedzi catchment.
    • Mapimbi and Nwambi in particular show a very strong affinity for the eastern side of the KNP, essentially the basalts. This preference is also suggested in Bvenkenya who was the animal who spent most time in Mozambique and can in fact be considered to have settled there, not having returned for many months now. This kind of emigration can be linked to young animals attempting to disperse and take advantage of abundant resources beyond steep competition in saturated areas.
    • Like Bvenkenya, Nwambi and Mondli (and even Mapimbi to a much lesser degree) also took advantage of new habitats and abundant resources in Mozambique but always returned to Kruger and especially to Makuleke during the dry season.
    • Two animals that didn’t follow this pattern were Gila and Jabulani. Jabulani demonstrated the most circumscribed movements showed a strong affinity for the western side of the area, making regular forays into the military corridor and also south along the Luvuvhu. Gila by contrast was the most wide-ranging of the animals and followed essentially a north-south axis from the Letaba in KNP to the Nuanetsi in Gonarezhou, Zimbabwe. His movements into Zimbabwe (as are those of Zingi) are very important in terms of demonstrating the ability to meaningfully connect Kruger and Gonarezhou, something that we hope to see happen in the foreseeable future.


    Our research partners, Save the Elephants – South Africa, are in the process of analysing and writing the data up at the moment. The result will be made available when completed.
    Please click on the following names for their movement maps:

    BULLS
    Mapimbi

    Nwambi

    Mondii

    Bvekenya

    Gila

    Jabulani

    COWS
    Sarita

    Nwankwimbi

    Mangala

    Agnes

    Colleen

    Zingi

    Annual Report - 2011
    Between 2005 and 2008 Wilderness Safaris guides noted that elephants were common during the dry season within the Pafuri region of the northern Kruger National Park (KNP), but practically disappeared with the first rains. Save the Elephants (STE), involved in elephant research in the Park, was approached and a collaborative research project was initiated with two primary objectives: to determine 1) where the elephants move to in the wet summer months and 2) if there was any linkage between these and elephants in Gonarezhou National Park in Zimbabwe, to be included within the Great Limpopo Transfrontier Park (GLTP).

    The project is gathering data, primarily from GPS collars placed on 12 elephants, tracking their movements for the past year and into 2011, and bolstered by observations in the field by Pafuri Camp guides using an elephant identification study. Based on patterns of nicks and tears in elephant ears, a register of known individuals that contains 82 bulls and 10 family groups has been developed.

    Initial results suggest that the elephants move south of the Luvuvhu River when the rains come. This raises the question why do they only use the Pafuri area in the dry season? Are there key resources here that enable them to get through the relatively hard winter months, a seasonal stepping stone? Are they constrained by the rising Limpopo and Luvuvhu Rivers which bound the area in the north and south and want to avoid getting trapped between these when the waters rise in summer? Another full year's data is needed before any real patterns in their movements can be established which may elucidate the motivation.

    In February 2010 sightings records were gathered in Gonarezhou NP to compare against the Pafuri register to determine what percentage of elephants observed in southern Gonarezhou are known from northern Kruger NP. Already one of the six collared bulls has made a return journey from KNP to Gonarezhou, providing some insight into the possible route elephants may follow when moving between these two. This will be important information in designing the Sengwe Wildlife Corridor to link these two areas and bring Gonarezhou into the GLTP.