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Anxiety over Cavalier

Written By: admin on January 28, 2011 No Comment

It is always distressing for us when we download data with our tracking software and discover we lost satellite communication with one of our collared elephants. Although we try to remain optimistic, it is still harrowing to not know what is or has happened to the elephant. Such an event occurred this week.

We deployed a satellite collar on a young, frisky bull, CH44 “Cavalier” (thus named buy our generous donor, Harry Ferguson) in July, while being hosted by African Horseback Safaris in the Abu concession, wildlife management area NG26, located in the Okavango Delta. He was selected to be part of our tracking program to attain information on elephant movements, within and movements out, of the delta. We especially are hoping to attain further information on movements towards the west, as there has been a gap of information in that region. Cavalier immediately proved to be exactly the elephant we were hoping for. Following the deployment of his collar he immediately moved swiftly to the north, trekking 40km north within the first 2 weeks of monitoring him. However, he then milled within a small group of “islands” for over a month. But then something triggered his movements and he moved west. Possibly it was the first rains of the season prompted him to move.

Elephant bull deciding whether to cross the fence

Elephant bull deciding whether to cross the fence

Meanwhile, we had begun our intense aerial wildlife surveys at the time. While surveying that particular area, we also flew the southern buffalo veterinary fence between the protected area NG26 and the Habu concession to the west, which is tribal lands, primarily a subsistence farming and cattle-grazing area. We were checking on the fence’s integrity and documenting places where the fence was breached by both cattle entering into the wildlife area and wildlife entering into the tribal lands. We saw both scenarios. We noted several large bulls and a large population of zebra on the western side of the fence. The information we attained there, emphasize the urgency of programs to conserve the wildlife and unique habitat in that region. I took a photo from the air of a bull standing on the fence line and posted it to rouse interest and comment. “Will he cross-over?” Unbeknownst to us, that is exactly what Cavalier was doing at the moment, in that same area.

Of course, there is concern when elephants are so close to farms and villages. Human-elephant conflict incidences are on the rise, especially this time of year when crops are ready to be harvested. (Read more about HEC on http://www.elephantswithoutborders.org/living_with_elephants.php) So for the last couple of months, we have been sitting on pins and needles, watching Cavalier’s movements in that area. He had remained on the western side of the fence moving up and down 80 km, within 10-20km of the fence line, with an occasional jaunt further west. Thus far, he seems to be avoiding people, but is in close proximity. However, one day earlier this week, we discovered that his collar was no longer emitting a signal.

"Cavalier" photo courtesy of Mike Holding

"Cavalier" photo courtesy of Mike Holding

Gravely concerned, having prior commitments we could not delay, we called Mike Holding, EWB’s colleague, friend and primary fixed-wing pilot to fly & track, to hopefully find out what may have happened to Cavalier. Relief came when Mike landed and contacted us to let us know he found and photographed Cavalier, alive and well, foraging in a pristine, remote area away from villages, accompanied by two compadre elephant bulls!  What was the reason for no signal? It was simply that Cavalier’s collar was caked with mud. He is now further west than any of our elephant data received.
Thank you sincerely, Mike, for saving the day and relieving our worries… once again!!!! Read about EWB’s colleagues on http://www.elephantswithoutborders.org/colleagues.php

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Cavalier on western side of Okavango Delta

Cavalier on western side of Okavango Delta

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