Our survey up to Mwanihana Peak from the base camp “GMP” provided further evidence that Udzungwa elephants climb steep hills. In the montane bamboo zone at ~2000m elevation, we found them eating the reddish bark of what resembles a date palm and is locally known as “ukindu” (identification pending). By coincidence, we shared the camp initially with a Japanese entomologist based at London’s Natural History Museum who informed us that he and his team had been sifting through elephant dung in search for dung beetles along the trails…which meant that our dung measurements weren’t going to be any good this time! But something positive may yet come out of this meeting: Hitoshi may contribute a textbox on dung beetles he found in elephant dung to our chapter on elephants for the Udzungwa book.
We are just back from surveys in high elevation (>2000 m) swamps, forest and bamboo south of Mbatwa and Msosa villages and ranger posts. It is a breathtaking area! The swamps and surrounding environs are an elephant hotspot – we had a higher encounter rate with elephant dung and sign than the other sites we have surveyed in the Udzungwa Mts. As it is dry season, the permanently flooded areas of Ng’ung’umbi may be attracting elephants from other regions, and wallows (such as the one pictured here) abound.
Research assistant Paulo at a high-altitude marsh-side mud wallow
We were fortunate to have great views of a group of seven elephants – a tuskless matriarch, three females with very small tusks, a young bull, and two calves traversing a ridgetop trailnear a patch of montane bamboo!
On our climb up to the swamps from the Mbatwa ranger post however, we spotted two poachers carrying tusk-sized and -shaped loads wrapped in thatch – we failed to get a photograph as they were quick to get away. The TANAPA ranger who was accompanying us called it in but the poachers have not yet been found.
The elephants we saw were nervous, trumpeted and fled. It is disappointing that poachers are accessing such remote areas for ivory! Apart from this encounter with poachers, we recorded only one other human sign during our 12-day trip (a gunshot heard one afternoon). The area has astounding potential to support an abundance of Udzungwa species and we hope that rangers will carefully monitor this very special site.
- Leaving Ng’ung’umbi, July 2010
In mid-June, Idea Wild again supported our project with a second equipment grant. We are very excited to try the Bushnell camera traps, and compare them with our existing Cuddebacks! We would like to develop a method for aging elephants from camera trap photos to help in our study of Udzungwa elephant demography (thus far, mainly dung bolus diameter based). Wild ideas welcome!
Meanwhile, TEAM has been camera-trapping throughout Mwanihana forest block, and we hope to use TEAM data to both establish some elephant IDs and to derive accumulation rates from photos for an index of elephant population size which we can compare to our dung counts. Although the WCS-Sumatra team did not find a strong relationship between photo accumulation rate and elephant density estimated with dung counts, we feel that the camera trap method warrants further testing in more sites.
Click here to see one of our camera trap videos: elephant charges camera trap.
Over the last several weeks, I coordinated a multi-author Science policy paper (initially submitted as an opinion piece to and rejected by the journal Pachyderm) arguing against resumption of the ivory trade until better data become available. We recommended that CITES make consultation between neighboring countries that share elephant populations
compulsory when one of them petitions CITES to downlist and trade. Following its publication, I was invited to discuss the issue on BBC’s Science in Action program.
Our article is available on Save the Elephants website: Elephants, Ivory and Trade.
Our field note on using dung bolus diameter to estimate elephant age in the Udzungwas has been published in the journal Pachyderm. The journal cover sports a photograph of an Udzungwa elephant taken by our friend and colleague, the talented photographer and herpetologist Michele Menegon.
- Our bungalow at UEMC
The Udzungwa Ecological Monitoring Centre (UEMC) – which acts as our base – was established as a research facility in 2006 by our long-time collaborator Dr. Francesco Rovero of Trento Museum of Natural Sciences, together with Tanzania National Parks (TANAPA). UEMC’s research community is growing each year. UEMC’s current manager Arafat Mtui has been generous in contributing help and advice to our project on Udzungwa elephants. For a list of research taking place in the region, please see Monitoring, Data, and Research.