Over the years, poaching has been an ongoing concern to the survival of the IUCN listed ‘Vulnerable’ African elephant. The Akagera Management Company (AMC) recognised the need for an Elephant ID Database to help identify and conserve elephant in the Akagera National Park, Rwanda.
The overall aim of the project is to understand and quantify elephant population and behaviour in Akagera, focusing on individuals and families as a basis for their management, while helping to build local capacity in research, tourism and conservation.
It will expand on the work-in-progress database which currently has 40 of approximately 100 elephants in the park who were identified and entered during the December 2018 field season. This database is scheduled to be completed in April 2020. It will have the dual purpose of providing useful information to park management and produce an interactive tool for local guides in enhancing guest experience.
A workshop will also be conducted by the principal researcher for local guides and at least one local student from the University of Rwanda, to teach them how to identify elephants, and determine their sex and age, during December 2019.
Researcher: Dr Tammie Matson
Poaching poses an ongoing threat to the survival of the African elephant and while the rate has declined since the most recent peak in 2011, it remains unsustainably high. Elephants in the continent occur across 37 African countries, and their habitats are becoming increasingly fragmented. Rwanda has two known populations of elephant in the Volcanoes National Park as well as in Akagera National Park.
In 1975, 26 elephants believed to be under the age of ten were translocated from the Bugesera region of Rwanda to Akagera National Park. Since the introduction of these individuals, Akagera National Park’s elephant population has grown significantly and their conservation and population growth remain of national importance. The area has, however, been subjected to periods of poaching and human-cattle encroachment.
The coalition between African Parks with the Rwandan Development Board, forming the AMC, has been effective in reducing poaching and increasing tourism in the park. To date, elephants in Akagera have not been studied, so this research will provide a wealth of information that will assist park management and local guides to be more informed about elephant and their individual identification, and thus contribute to the enhancement of elephant conservation within the Park.
1. Document the demography of the elephant population in a completely photographic database, including population size, age ratio, individual identification as well as their sex.
- Identification of individuals will be conducted by means of recording obvious scars, ear tears, tail features and tusk descriptions.
2. Observe and document family relationships within herds.
- Determine the family relationships between individuals e.g. mother/calf, matriarch, dominant bull through direct field observations – recorded in the database.
3. Determine herd compositions including ‘clan’ groupings of families and identify dominant bulls and matriarchs.
- Establish the number and type of herds, expanding on initial observations from the December 2018 field trip, determine herd compositions and expand on understanding of ‘clan’ movement through direct field observations.
4. Determine indicative births and deaths in the population during the study period.
- Record any births and deaths that are seen in the field.