|Tuli Elephant Count 2012|
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|Tuli Elephant Count 2012|
MISSION 22 of 2012
Name of Mission: Tuli Elephant Count 2012
This regular, biennial mission was again requested by Jeanetta Selier of the Central Limpopo Valley Elephant Research Programme. As before, Jeanetta asked for our assistance with a count of elephants in the Tuli Block, an area spanning parts of South Africa, Botswana and Zimbabwe.
The flights took place over three days in September and the Bateleurs pilots who volunteered were again, Avroy Shlain, Raymond Steyn and Timothy Webster, flying a Cessna 182, a Cessna 206 and a Cessna 182, respectively.
The report presented below was prepared by Jeanetta Selier.
It is two years since we last counted the elephants in the Tuli and a lot has happened since. Not only has the Greater Mapungubwe Transfrontier Conservation Area been established adding more land to conservation, especially on the South African side, but hunting in all three countries have intensified. This year has also been one of the driest years the Tuli has experienced since the early 80’s. The purpose of this elephant count was not only to reconfirm what we already have established during six prior counts, that the elephant population remains stable what numbers are concerned in the Tuli, but also to see how the change in land use practices in the area has affected the elephant distribution. For this reason we included more properties on the South African side than we did in prior years.
The total aerial count was scheduled for the 7th to the 11th of September and three pilots from The Bateleurs (Avroy Shlain, Raymond Steyn and Tim Webster) offered their help once again. But on Friday, the day we were scheduled to leave Johannesburg for the Tuli, weather conditions did not play along and the count was delayed by one day. Luckily, on Saturday the weather cleared enough for our three-hour flight to the Limpopo Valley airfield where the rest of the crew awaited our arrival. The afternoon was spent sorting out teams, fuel and a quick flight to help prepare everyone for the count the following day. Over the next two days we counted elephants in Botswana, Zimbabwe and South Africa!
The Tuli was drier than I have ever seen it in all of my ten years here as a field researcher, and the groups of elephants were the smallest I have ever experienced. Groups as small as a mother and calf were counted during the two days, and these groups were scattered across the landscape. Flying across Sentinel Ranch in Zimbabwe, we spotted elephant tracks converging from all directions. At first this looked strange, but then came the realisation that all the elephants were walking once a day to an orange feeding area below a sandstone ridge. We spotted close to 200 elephants in the vicinity of the oranges and the following morning there was not a single orange left! This was the only area where we spotted large groups of elephants.
In total we counted a 1,291 elephants in the entire area. This figure is very similar to the six previous counts conducted in the Tuli since 2000. The distribution of the elephants as expected was very different from previous years: only 320 elephants (roughly) were counted in the Northern Tuli Game Reserve, and this is over 100 fewer than the previous count in 2010. We counted over 350 elephants on Nottingham Estate and Sentinel Ranch in Zimbabwe, and about 250 elephants in Mapungubwe National Park and Mapungubwe Private Reserve combined. The highest number of elephants (353) was counted west of the Motloutse River within the Tuli Block. The rainfall records for the area confirmed the visual observations of the counting teams with more rain west of the Northern Tuli Game Reserve; the area had more vegetation available and thus attracted a lot more elephants to this section of their range.
It is only through regular counts in an area of this size that we can understand the integrate dynamics of elephant movements, and the factors that determine their movements and subsequent impact on the environment in a human dominated landscape.
With such a huge venture there are always a lot of people and organisations to thank. My gratitude goes to The Bateleurs, the Peace Park Foundation, NOTUGRE, Tuli Lodge and Mashatu Game Reserve for once again funding and assisting with the elephant count. I would like also to thank the Wildlife Departments in both Zimbabwe and Botswana; and South African National Parks, for giving us permission to conduct this count; and the Departments of Civil Aviation in all three countries for their assistance. A big thank you also to our three pilots for their safe and brilliant flying, and to all the navigators and counters for their expert counting.