Amboseli Trust for Elephants

January - March 2023

31st March 2023 | Newsletter

Note from our Director


Dear Cynthia,



As I write this letter at the end of March 2023, I can report that Amboseli had its first rain on March 26, and then a serious storm on March 28. Nairobi has already received a good amount of rain and if that is an indicator, we should be getting more in Amboseli. Our "long rains" usually don’t start until April, so we have hope that we'll have a normal rainy season. 


During the first serious period of the drought in October and November, more than 150 elephants died. Fortunately, we received a bit of rain in late November and some new vegetation grew. The elephants and other grazing species left the Park and moved far and wide to find food. The deaths slowed down, but we fear the rate will pick up again if we don’t get adequate rain in this March-May rainy season.

 

Droughts are heartbreaking and frustrating for us at ATE. There is abundant, fresh, clean water in Amboseli. It flows in underground rivers from Kilimanjaro and bubbles up into springs in the Park creating vast open lakes and marshes. The problem is that without rainfall vegetation can't grow and there is not enough food for the wildlife. The Kenya Wildlife Service and other concerned organizations distributed hay in parts of the Park, but most of the elephants would not touch it or would take one bite and then leave it. The wildebeests and zebras ignored it as well. Our acute frustration came from not being able to do anything to help the animals. Of course, we have to tell ourselves, “It’s nature”, but what a cruel nature it can be. 

 

It looks like this drought is coming to an end, but what will be the toll? The good news is that elephants are remarkably resilient. In our studies of the effects of the 2009 drought when 400 elephants died (25% of the population) we were surprised at how quickly families regrouped and new matriarchs took over in smooth transitions. Once again elephants impressed us with their loyalty and the strength of their family ties. 


Cynthia Moss

Director

Tracking Explorers - Understanding Male Dispersal

The above map represents valuable insight into what is at stake for elephants and the Amboseli ecosystem. Our young males wearing satellite collars continue to range widely and shift the areas they use, even in drought conditions. These results show how flexibly elephants respond to their environment and why they need so much space. They also show how successfully elephants continue to move across Amboseli, into Tsavo, and deep into Tanzania, even crossing the Rift Valley (the vertical grey lines underlying the Kenya label on the map above). This connectivity to other populations is important for genetic exchange, and for highlighting what conservation policies need to protect.


Males vary hugely in their movement patterns, and we hope to tie these kinds of data to the 500+ male dispersal events we've logged from families since 1977. Exploring is important - it shapes learning and ecological opportunities for individuals, and that builds into how elephants use a landscape, and what social, ecological and mating opportunities they have over their lifetimes. Bringing new technology to our long-term study of individual life histories is an exciting venture. We're very proud of these results and excited to write up the data, but we remain sensitive to the risks of immobilising animals. As we celebrate the results, we try to make the data work as hard as possible, making it available to other stakeholders and policy makers.


Deploying collars carries a financial burden too: the budget needed to deploy and maintain collar presence is eye-watering. Collars that fail need to be replaced or removed entirely, especially on males who are still growing. We visually inspect collar fit every time males are seen or photographed but some of these males use such inaccessible areas we have gone months without seeing them. Esposito (blue tracks on the map) has now crossed the Rift Valley, entering the hills that border the Maasai Mara, but his collar has failed. We are indebted to our colleagues at Mara Elephant Project (MEP), who have offered to use their helicopter and team to locate and refit the collar. They are so excited by these data that they are splitting the costs with us, using their own donor funds to help us maximise the understanding of elephant movements across landscapes. We are incredibly grateful to have MEP supporting us, and ground support from SORALO (South Rift Association of Landowners), as well as Save the Elephant's support to deploy the collars. The Kenya Wildlife Service and Big Life Foundation use the collar data for landscape planning and security, and we are writing up the results with colleagues at Kenya's Wildlife Training and Research Institute. While we plan what phase 2 of this exciting project should cover, we are incredibly grateful for the new partnerships these males are catalysing, and how useful their stories are to other stakeholders.

Ibadan, one of our collared males. Born in February 2004, he just turned 19 years old and proved to be more of a homebody than some of the other males we've been tracking, although he did range into Tanzania at times (see the orange tracks on the map).

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New Research Position - Dr. Lydia Tiller


We're very pleased to report that we have a new member of the research team, one who we believe is going to make a significant contribution to the project and to the future of the Amboseli elephants. Dr. Lydia Tiller joined us in January having managed the Elephants & Bees project in Kenya for Save the Elephants for five years. Prior to joining STE, Lydia completed her PhD on elephant crop foraging in the Maasai Mara. She brings a wealth of experience to our team.


ATE continues to play an active role as a technical advisor to agencies managing the human-wildlife interface. The importance of changing landscape dynamics, and the impacts on humans and elephants cannot be understated for the future of the ecosystem. To that end, in our 50th year ATE concluded we must formally expand our research capacity in this area and we recruited Lydia as a dedicated Coexistence & Connectivity specialist. Lydia’s role is to:


  • Support ATE’s ongoing ecosystem connectivity research;
  • Develop a coexistence research program in collaboration with Big Life, exploring trends at the human-elephant interface and developing new research ideas to manage and mitigate coexistence challenges;
  • Recruit a research team to conduct the new program. Ultimately, we intend to recruit research assistants and graduate students in this area and build a program that actively supports and is accountable to communities living alongside wildlife. 

SUSO Wildlife Ambassadors Learn Essential Skills to Protect Elephants and Communities

On March 29th, we trained 32 of SUSO’s (Stand Up Shout Out) Wildlife Ambassadors. Stand Up Shout Out is a youth activism and education organization whose mission is to raise awareness and support communities living near wildlife as well as implement conservation action. The human-wildlife interactions in Kenya are becoming increasingly frequent and often escalate, leading to human injury or death or more often, it is the animal that is injured or killed. Awareness and safety protocols are a crucial knowledge base that need to the disseminated to all people living near wildlife. Being such a small team, we can’t possibly reach people all over the country, but by working with media and partnering with organizations like SUSO, we are able to help raise important awareness in vulnerable areas. The SUSO Wildlife Ambassadors engage with youth, schools, and communities all over Kenya during their conservation activities. To do so, they need to know what safety protocols to teach when near elephants and what elephant behaviors to recognize as safe or dangerous. Topics covered included aggression vs play and how to differentiate these behaviors using key visual cues; musth in males and why we should be aware of musth males; safety protocols in the presence of elephants; and basic elephant biology.

 

ATE’s trainers, Norah Njiraini and Tal Manor, conducted the training session at the KWS headquarters near Kimana Gate. Due to the large size of the group, we could not conduct the training in our small research camp. We therefore got assistance from the Amboseli KWS headquarters who allowed us to use their Conference Hall to facilitate this training day. We would like to thank KWS for their support in providing SUSO and Amboseli Trust for Elephants the venue for this activity. The training was a huge success. We ran a workshop to review what the trainees absorbed, and they all came away with new and important knowledge on elephants. We discussed scenarios, shared stories, and got to know some of Kenya’s future conservationists in the making. We hope that these young conservationists will continue to develop in their career and help elephants and people all over Kenya.

ATE's Training Coordinator, Norah Njiraini, lecturing the trainees at KWS Park Headquarters

Norah presenting SUSO Founder and Director Peter Moll with his certificate.


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Thank You to Our Generous Donors

We would like to thank the generous donors who contributed our work within the last six months:

Doug Aja

Jane Beckwith

Judie Graham-Bell

Bessemer Trust

Born Free Foundation

Patricia Bucknell

Mr. and Mrs. George K. Conant

Detroit Zoological Foundation

Fair Play Foundation

Helen Grube Gifford

Marcia Gordon

Dr. Catherine Grellet

Deanna Gursky

Gwydion Fund for Wild Nature

Karen Lynn Hanson Charitable Fund

R. Hawthorne

Kathryn and John Heminway

Al and Jayne Hilde

Cora Kamerman

Jeanne Musgrove

Peter and Eleanor Nalle

Oakland Zoological Society

Performing Animal Welfare Society

Gordon R. Ray, MD

Rettet die Elefanten Afrikas

Rogers Family Foundation

Daryl Santosuosso

United Way

Washburn Charitable Foundation

Dr. Maxine Weinstein

Ways to Support ATE

Join Elatia

This is Elodie showing off her hat. She belongs to the EB family, one of the six families you can follow through our Elatia program. When you join you will receive regular updates, which include photos and videos and news of what is going on in the family. To learn more about Elatia go to This Link or contact us directly on: info@elephanttrust.org 

Name an Elephant Calf

This calf from the LD family has been named by a donor. She has been able to follow the calf's life for the last three years. You too can name a calf by joining our naming program, but we will wait until the drought is over and conditions improve before assigning names. The name you give "your calf" forms a part of the Amboseli dataset for all time. For more information write to us at: info@elephanttrust.org

Give a Gift that Lasts Forever

At 44 years old, Paolo is a big, handsome male. He broke his ear several years ago but it doesn't seem to slow him down. Help us keep him safe. Designate ATE as a beneficiary of your will, individual retirement account, or life insurance policy. To learn more about planned giving opportunities, please contact Betsy Swart:

eswart@elephanttrust.org

Tel: +1-508-783-8308

iGive

This is matriarch Puff and her son Picasso. One of the ways you can assure their future is to support ATE by making your online purchases through iGive. If you sign up the Amboseli Trust for Elephants as your recipient organization, we will get a small percentage of the sale. www.igive.com

Make a Donation


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