Elephant Ecology Project
Mozambique’s civil war. Since the inception of the Gorongosa Project (GP), increased protection of the Park has led to a remarkably fast recovery. The elephant population now numbers at ~800 individuals. This conservation achievement is complicated by the fact that ~200,000 people live around GNP, and agricultural areas have expanded. Human-elephant conflict (HEC) has therefore intensified, resulting in the destruction of crops by elephants.
Presently, Gorongosa’s elephants only use 10% of their historical range. Although restricted, this range borders an area with a high degree of human settlement and agriculture. This poses a risk to people’s food and economic security while putting elephants at greater risk of retaliation and illegal hunting.
In a landscape shared between people and elephants, elephant conservation and the maintenance of elephants’ critical roles in ecosystem functioning will only be possible with knowledge of elephant behaviour, ecology and HEC dynamics. People’s willingness to coexist with elephants will be essential. If co-existence between people and elephants is to be sustainable, it will need to be adaptive. The Elephant Ecology Program (EEP) responds to these needs by studying elephants across the human-shared landscape.
What we do
The EEP undertakes research and monitoring of the elephant population in the Greater Gorongosa Region. Our data contribute to the goals of improving knowledge of elephant biology and creating a better understanding of the entire Gorongosa system, which ultimately informs the Park’s management. The EEP also provides information to external researchers involved in elephant studies in the Park and directly advice the Human Wildlife Coexistence team regarding human elephant conflict dynamics and mitigation strategies. The EEP uses elephants as an emblematic species to support education programs such as GNP’s Girls’ Clubs to inspire and improve education.
Project Goals and Objectives:
The goals of the Elephant Ecology Project are to ensure that:
– Long-term monitoring study of Gorongosa elephants is conducted
– The dynamics, relations and impacts of our elephant growing population on the ecosystem are well understood
– Coexistence is achieved between the elephants and the people in the Park’s bufferzone) ensuring people’s tolerance of elephants and stewardship of elephants and the Park
– Connectivity between the Greater Gorongosa-Marromeu through elephant movements and use of habitats is re-established,
– Awareness and engagement for elephant conservation and coexistence with people is improved worldwide
– Contribute towards the Greater Gorongosa as a safe landscape for elephants in Mozambique.
– Modern technology is used for elephant related studies and protection (we might not be the longest study but maybe we can be one of the most advanced ones).
– More specifically our objectives are to:
– Understand elephants movements and dynamics as they recolonise the Park’s habitats
– Predict elephant future habitat range expansion on the landscape
– Ensure their protection in the landscape
– Ensure people and elephant coexistence throughout the Greater Gorongosa Landscape.
With the support of Gorongosa Project and donor resources, the EEP implements the following activities.
– Assessment and monitoring of the recovering elephant population: GPS satellite collars, camera traps, ground monitoring
– Support Human-Elephant Coexistence in GNP: analysis, strategies, equipment and training and
– Support education programs, especially Girls’ Clubs with the Initiative Role Models for Change
The Tracking and Monitoring of Elephants
We monitor our elephant population movement through GPS satellite collars that are deployed on specific female elephants belonging to different family groups and males found in the Gorongosa landscape. The collar data are used to understand patterns of seasonal movements throughout the habitats, different family groups interactions and to assist the human-wildlife coexistence programme.
The EEP is conducting an assessment and monitoring of the elephant population in Gorongosa Zambezi Sector (GZS) using camera traps. The goal is to fill the knowledge gap regarding the elephants population size, structure and habitat use in GZS and to provide vital information for management to ensure the conservation, protection and co-existence of elephants with people.
Gorongosa Zambezi Sector Grid has now 100 cameras positions with 99 active cameras (Browning Dark Ops Apex Trail Camera) distributed along the areas of high probability of elephants occurrence.
Support Human-Elephant Coexistence in GNP: analysis, strategies, equipment and training
The EEP advises the a multi-sectorial team on socio-ecological systems dynamics, elephant behaviour, conflict dynamics over space and time, and mitigation strategies through analysis of elephant movement, conflict and coexistence data.
The EEP Transfer skills to Community Collaborators on the Coexistence Teamthrough training in human-elephant conflict and coexistence related topics, providing equipment and fostering women’s integration on the teams.
Support education programs, especially Girls’ Clubs with the Initiative Role Models for Change
The Elephant Ecology Program started with the activity of supporting education programs, especially Girls’ Clubs. This activity brings women who work in GNP to Girls’ Club programs to share their stories and inspire the girls, places girls from the Girls’ Clubs in contact with role models with whom they can relate and works towards gender equality in the communities around the Park.
EEP uses elephants as an emblematic species to support education programs such as GNP’s Girls’ Clubs to inspire and improve education. The EEP manager has visited Girls Clubs as a role model and now is able to expand this activity by bringing more women role models to interact with the girls in the Girls Clubs and provide educational brochures to each girl in the club thanks to the support of the WildElements Foundation.
This activity exposes girls from Girls Club to different women who have broken society barriers such as child marriage, getting higher education and changing views about gender norms particularly around protected areas. This activity addresses the challenge of gender equality, life on earth by changing girl’s attitudes and lifting their eyes so they recognise the power of education to help bring the environmental, economic, and social benefits and lift their communities out of poverty and help protect the ecosystems on which we all depend on.
Each role model is a woman working in Gorongosa National Park’s different sectors (human development, sustainable development, conservation, science, communications and operations). The role models share their personal story, the challenges they faced, their work towards conservation of biodiversity. Seeing these women inspire young girls from the club to see by example the different paths they can take in their future and hopefully become stewards of the ecosystems they share with the Park and get involved in science and environment related areas.
This activity consists in three phases:
Phase 1: Creation of education content. This is being done by getting content: nominations from each department, profile and work pictures, a small explanation of the work and advice for the girls. After all the content is gathered, a brochure will be designed and printed.
Phase 2: Distribution of the brochures to girls from the girls club as one of their education materials.
Phase 3: Girls from the club meeting the role models (previously seen and studied in the brochure) either in the club or in the Park and mentoring. In this phase the GNP role models will become individual mentors for the girls aged 14 to 16 years old studying in grades 5a to 7a for a period between 6 to 12 months.
Since its inception in 2018, the EEP has continuously monitored 20 elephants through GPS satellite collars and has now a total of 35 elephants collared in the Gorongosa landscape. The EEP has set 100 camera traps, has provided has gathered 18 role models and produced 1500 copies of role model brochures to be distributed at Gorongosa Girls Clubs. The work of the coexistence team has been highlighted in the Wild Potential video.
The EEP got its first intern. Daniel Feijao is from Vila Gorongosa and graduated recently from the secondary school in the Buffer Zone of the Park. Daniel was selected under a careful process where ten candidates applied. Daniel came to join the project primarily to assist the project manager on the wildlife (elephant) tolerance survey in the communities of the conflict and coexistence corridor in the Buffer zone of the Park. Daniel is currently studying forestry engineering at the Eduardo Mondlane university in Maputo.
The EEP is continuing to work closely with GIS technician Margarida Victor with regards to the work being done in GZS. Margarida works on the camera traps settings and placement methodology. Margarida and the project manager are now in the process of defining the analysis method for the data collected by the camera traps and the next steps Margarida may want to take in regards to advancing her skills. This data will also be available for Margarida to use for future studies. Margarida was also able to join the re- collaring of lead females in the Park.
The EEP works closely with the Conservation Department and it collaborates with the Girls’ Club Program in the Education Sector of the Human Development Department. With the Conservation Department, we gather knowledge on elephant conflict dynamics, mitigate negative human-elephant experiences, and monitor the elephant population in real time to achieve objectives of the Conservation Department, including protection of key species and reducing human-wildlife conflict. We serve as role models in visits to Girls’ Clubs. We discuss challenges, opportunities, and life stories with the girls.
Monitoring the recovery of the elephant population, habitat use, and the distribution of elephants is crucial to inform management actions for the protection and conservation of a healthy elephant population under current and future threats such as habitat loss, HEC, illegal hunting, and climate change. The monitoring data give valuable information to design and monitor actions for conflict mitigation, protection of elephants and elephants’ habitats.
As a keystone species, elephants help maintain the integrity of entire ecosystems, which in turn delivers climate regulation benefits and resilience to climatic shocks. Ecosystem integrity helps achieve long-term goals for the conservation of wild places and the delivery of ecosystem services, both of which are critically important to the well-being of the elephants and people sharing the landscape.
Girls education is among the top 10 out of 100 most powerful solutions to addressing climate change. And, when girls are educated, they can make better choices for their society and the environment. Educating girls and women bring ripple effects through economies, families, communities and the landscapes where they live. The girls and women leaving in the communities around Gorongosa are uniquely positioned to be part of solutions in the fight against climate change, supporting their education can also bring benefits to the Gorongosa landscape.
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