GPS Tracking Reveals Elephants are Traveling at Night for Fear of Poachers

7 Nov 2017

East African elephants’ behavior is adapting to survive poachers; their greatest threat.

The peer-reviewed Ecological Indicators Journal published a study this week suggesting that elephants are aware of poaching gangs and the dangers of them and have started to move at night to avoid them.

The University of Twente that is partners with the Kenya Wildlife Service and the Kenya-based charity Save the Elephants carried out the study. They used mortality data and GPS tracking between 2002 and 2012 in northern Kenya.

This data helped them measure the “night-day speed ratio” of the elephants’ movements in relation to how many poachers were around in the nearby areas.  Researchers found that both female and male elephants moved at night more than they did day when poachers tended to be more active.

Elephants can see in dim light just as well as in the daylight, but their behavior changes could present additional threats. Nighttime movement may expose baby elephants to the dangers of lions attacking them, losing their mothers or other predators that lurk around and hunt during the night attacking them.

This research shows the elephants flexibly adapt their behaviors to stay safe, according to Lain Douglas-Hamilton, founder of Save the Elephants. This change in their movement behavior has implications for their survival and reproduction and foraging strategy which aren’t understood completely.

Researchers believe they can monitor the results to help identify changes in levels of poaching on an almost real-time basis. And, this could end up being an effective tool in saving the elephants’ lives.

The most exciting finding of this research is being able to apply GPS tracking to prevent poaching, according to a consultant of the British animal rights organization Born Free Foundation’s, Ian Redmond.

Redmond called it a stroke of genius and told Newsweek the change in the elephants’ behavior didn’t surprise them since they already knew that elephants were very intelligent animals. An elephant’s brain actually 4 times the size of a human’s brains, he said.

But, GPS tracking can be a useful wildlife management tool, he added. He claims it’s fascinating research.

Redmond says, that GPS tracking acts like an extra range of eyes on the ground that monitor the day-night speed ration and possibly alert anti-poaching patrols before poachers are able to kill the elephants.

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