When ERP moves elephants to a new reserve, we do not just drop them off and leave them. We do our best to help the new reserve and the elephants to have the best start possible.
Before translocating the elephants, we do site visits to ensure that the reserve is suitable for elephants and to assist the reserve with any uncertainties or questions they may have. After the release, we help the reserve by monitoring the elephants for at least 3 months and help them get familiar with the monitoring system for the collar. We also compile an identification kit of the elephants.
Our elephant identification kit contains useful information about elephants in general, such as recommended sighting procedures and behavioural displays and gestures to be particularly aware of. Most importantly, we gather as much information as possible on the elephants.
We investigate their history and gather information on any major events that they have experienced. This can be previous relocations, injuries and whether they were darted and treated for these, any deaths in the family group, negative experiences with humans and so on. Knowing these events, when it happened, and who it happened to is very important. Elephants are long-lived, cognitive beings and past events can influence their behaviour and temperament in the future. By having this knowledge, the reserves are given the best possible insights into the elephants. The reserve will be able to foresee and prevent situations that could potentially become a problem for both elephants and reserve.
We also compile a family tree, a visual tool helping the reserve to understand the internal bonds and relationships within the family group. Understanding as much as possible about the elephants and their relations will provide the reserve with the best basis for making management decisions that are in the best interest of the elephants’ wellbeing.
All parts of the identification kit are important, but one of the most useful aspects is the identification kit itself. We make a profile for each of the elephants. These profiles contain information on that particular elephant, such as name, age, nearest relations, and temperament / general behaviour. It also includes the measurements we took during the capture. These measurements can be repeated if an elephant ever needs to be darted again and it will track the development of the elephants.
Each profile has photos and sketches of the elephants from different angles. These highlight each individual’s defining characteristics, for example old scars on the body, a bump on the trunk, notches and holes on the ears, vein patterns on the ears, and the shape of the tusks.
Being able to identify each individual is very important. One elephant may have past experiences that mean it will be sensitive to certain situations. By knowing which one it is and what the history is, unfortunate and dangerous situations can be avoided. Another possible situation where accurate identification is necessary is if one of the elephants is injured and needs veterinary assistance. Being able to identify which elephant is injured is very important in these situations.
It can take a while to collect all of this information, especially when compiling the individual profiles. We need to have clear photos of the elephants from different angles. Most importantly, we need to understand that individual’s temperament and behaviour, before we can convey this information to the reserve. This means that compiling an identification kit requires many hours in the company of the elephants - and in as many different situations as possible to get the full impression of the elephants. Fortunately, it is one of those situations where you learn while doing. Time spent with elephants is never wasted.
The next blog post in this series will take you behind the scenes of how we name elephants.