This month elephant foraging strategies and social behaviour of the elephants at Mashatu have been seen to have an increasing influence on vegetation, herbivores and other species in the savanna community. The landscape continues to dry as the winds build across the Northern Tuli Savanna. Large groups of elephants are congregating near areas like the Limpopo river, where subsurface water is still available to those that dig holes exposing the fresh water channel passing beneath. Away from water, most groups are found foraging, sleeping or dust bathing exclusively with immediate family – usually one mother cow and her calves. Members of their bond group may be seen foraging in proximity or simultaneously travelling in unison, but the gaps between these little families is increasing as food resources become more sparse. Yet elephants, and those that forage in their wake, carry on in the midst of these challenges.
During recent field observations the elephants have remained remarkably relaxed and approachable, despite the pressures of the season. Browsing is now focused on leaves, twigs and branches, at heights inaccessible to most other species. Although their foraging strategies produce a strong influence on the structure of the environment, elephants – particularly cows – have been seen redistributing leaves and other pieces of vegetation where young elephants and smaller browsers like impala and kudu gain access to nutrition.
Elephant bulls that don’t have young following along seem to savour each morsel they find. These humongous lone travellers are able to find food caches at very hard to reach heights. One of the bulls spent more than half-an-hour to find leaves and fruits nestled three meters high in the recesses of this Mashatu tree’s braches. As the dry season continues with increasing wind and heat anticipated, we will maintain our research focus on elephant survival efforts affecting the ecology of the greater savanna system here in the northern Tuli region of Botswana.
Jena Casey MS.
Mashatu Elephant Research Project
*We are pleased to announce the return of our well-received Ivory Drives – game drives with a special focus on elephant conservation research, that provide guests with an opportunity to tour parts of Northern Tuli Game Reserve while spending time in close proximity to wild elephants in their natural habitat. The lead elephant ecology researcher on site guides the tour, offering information on recent elephant activity, sociability, ecology and research techniques; as well as local history in the context of elephant conservation dynamics related to southern Africa and the greater continent.