TANZANIA WILDLIFE MIGRATION: TARANGIRE ELEPHANTS
A Project of Woodland Park Zoo's Partners for Wildlife
An infant African elephant stays close to its mother's side in Tarangire National Park.
About the Project
The vast savannas of East Africa support a multitude of some of Earth’s largest animals on the quest for food, shelter and mates. The African elephant is one of those migrants. The Tarangire elephant project began in 1993 as Dr. Charles Foley’s doctoral study on the effects of poaching on the social system of the African elephant. Since the inception of the project, now the second-longest running elephant research project in Africa, more than 1,000 elephants have been individually identified, forming one of the largest elephant identification databases in Africa. In 2000, the work expanded outside the National Park borders with a goal of protecting critical wildlife migration routes in the Simanjiro Plains.
The primary focus of Dr. Foley’s Tanzania Wildlife Migration work is on identifying and protecting wildlife migration corridors and dispersal areas outside the wildlife parks where the animals live. 2005 saw the program establish the first conservation easement in the Simanjiro, creating a zone exclusively for livestock grazing and wildlife migration. In 2012, one of the key goals of the program was to continue expanding the conservation easement programs in order to develop a Wildlife Management Area in at least two additional key villages. In addition, an effort is on-going to strengthen anti-poaching efforts through the hiring of 15 additional Village Game Scouts, bringing the number to 25 in seven villages adjacent to the Tarangire.
This, along with securing conservation easements, will help alleviate human-elephant conflicts which are increasingly threatening the wellbeing of the elephants, and other wildlife in the Tarangire.
Local communities have benefited very little, if at all, from wildlife on their land, and often lose their crops to grazing animals and their livestock to predators. Through the project’s conservation easements, which provide corridors set aside for wildlife to safely pass through, communities are now receiving direct financial benefits for their cooperation in conservation, including protecting dry season grazing land from agricultural expansion.
Community Member to Game Scout
Training local villagers to monitor and protect the wildlife in their area is a key facet of the long-term conservation strategy for the area. Information empowers the villages and the monitoring teams can act as important spokespeople for the project. The presence of the teams in the area serves as a deterrent to poachers; the game scouts note any incidences of illegal activity and then call in official anti-poaching units from Tarangire National Park or from sport hunting operators to arrest the perpetrators. An information sharing system between the Village Game Scouts and the Tarangire anti-poaching unit provides better protection for elephants outside the park. Both have made a number of arrests and the increased level of security has led to several incidents of poachers being intercepted pre-emptively.
About African Elephants
Long a symbol of African wildlife, the African elephant is the largest living land mammal with adult males weighing up to 15,000 pounds. African elephants live in socially complex family units comprising related adult females and their immature offspring. A family unit is usually made up of 8 to 10 animals and is led by the oldest, largest dominant female. While Tanzania has the second largest elephant population in Africa, Tarangire National Park is a nationally important elephant area, heavily promoted by Tanzania National Parks as one of the best places to see large herds of relaxed elephants.
In the Field
The elephants of Tarangire National Park are under increasing threat from poaching for ivory and loss of critical habitat outside the National Park. Ivory poaching has become a serious threat across Africa, in East and Central Africa especially. Even the better-protected parks have seen a recent increase in poaching. In addition, agricultural expansion to the west and north of Tarangire has led to the disappearance of most of the wildlife corridors connecting Tarangire to surrounding dispersal areas. This project addresses these threats through village game scouts and protection of key elephant corridors through existing land protection programs.
At the Zoo
General Curator Dr. Nancy Hawkes specializes in reproductive physiology and assisted reproduction techniques for Asian and African elephants; collaborating with zoos around the country in developing successful breeding programs. She led the team at the National Zoo that collaborated with Dr. Thomas Hildebrandt of the Leibniz Institute for Zoo and Wildlife Research of Berlin, Germany, to first attempt the ultrasound-guided artificial insemination technique in an elephant in 1995. Since that time, more than 30 pregnancies have resulted from the use of the technique in both Asian and African elephants in North American and European zoos.
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