December 2006 by Michelle and Steve Henley email: email@example.com Postal address: P.O.Box 960, Hoedspruit, 1380 Tel: 015-7930369, Fax: 015-7930496 Web address: www.savetheelephants.org go to ‘Regions’ and then ‘Southern Africa’ In addition to our regular features, this edition will focus on a newly applied technique to estimate elephant ages, feedback from our first Grassroots Programme and a contribution by Howard Blight. How long in the tooth are you? It is one of those misty days in the bush when the sky dips low to touch the horizon. Looking into the distance the yellow blossoms of the Knob thorn trees contrast strikingly with the rain-pregnant sky. We are all gathered on Tanda Tula airstrip to participate in another collaring safari. For the very first time we will be taking tooth moulds of the sleeping giants. Dental impressions of the lower jaw will assist us in accurately aging the animals. Elephants acquire six molar teeth each side of their jaw during the course of their lives. By 47 years of age the last sets of molars are fully erupted. When the final set of molars wear down after 60 years, the elephant usually dies of starvation. With a sense of expectation we wait for Dr. Cobus Raath to immobilise three bulls in his usual professional and competent manner. Once the animals gracefully sink to the ground we approach them to fit the GPS-GMS collars, collect morphometric (body measurement) data, take blood and tail hair samples, and to make the dental impressions. It is difficult to describe the feeling and sense of awe upon approaching an immobilised elephant. The rhythmic, guttural snoring provides an amusing yet peaceful background noise to all our frenzied activities. The skin is a landscape reflecting the weathered appearance of age-old Leadwood trees. The soles of the feet look like the cracked surface of dried –up waterholes. These features are marvels within their own right, and for the first time we would also get to know the inside of an elephant’s mouth……. Elephant skin Soles of the feet Dr. Andre Ganswindt and Stefanie Münscher have come along to show us how to take tooth moulds as they had done some practice runs on elephant jaws at Onderstepoort where they are based. Using a technique established by Dr. Hendrik Rasmussen from Save the Elephants in Kenya, we set out preparing the material for the mould. A product from Switzerland called Whaledent, kindly sponsored by Leon Coetzer, is combined with an activator, and immediately we place the lumps of kneaded putty into the baking-oven of an elephant’s mouth! Andre and Stefanie discuss the technicalities of getting the mould into the mouth Getting the jaw open is no easy task and sticking your arm next to the tongue to reach for the teeth towards the back of the jaw is slightly intimidating. One movement of the jaw could mean a few missing fingers. The breath and saliva smell like grated carrots which helps us feel less scared then we would be, had the breath been meaty or putrid. After pressing the mould against the teeth we wait for it to set. A wiggle here and there enables us to extract the perfectly set moulds. We fill them with plaster-of-paris and after this solidifies we take the moulds off and measure the length and width of the plaster-of-paris teeth. We now know the age of three new study animals that we collared on the 27 of September 2006. These were: Everest………..43 ± 2 years Caughley………24 ± 2 years Tussle………….18 ± 1 years Michelle feels the innards of Everest’s mouth More collaring news We have collared a total of 11 elephants this year. Classic, Diney and Joan’s satellite collars were replaced with the more power efficient and cheaper GMS-GPS collars. Next year we will be collaring six new elephants and replacing two collars to meet our original objectives of having 30 elephants simultaneously collared by 2007. Thereafter we will be replacing collars every 3-4 years, as their batteries become depleted. We have recently deployed seven collars on bulls within the Kruger National Park on the border of Limpopo National Park in order to investigate range expansion patterns of bulls to the West as well as to the East of the Kruger National Park. It is important to determine whether dispersal is functioning as a population regulatory mechanism for the expanding Kruger population. Thank you Dr. Cobus Raath, we appreciate your continual support of our project within the APNR. We are very grateful to SANParks for carrying the operational costs of the collars that were deployed in the Kruger National Park. Dr. Peter Buss is thanked for conducting the collaring operations while Dr. Ian Whyte and Dr. Markus Hofmeyr are thanked for all the logistical arrangements. We appreciate the donation of Whaledent that Leon Coetzer has agreed to make available during all collaring operations. Andrea Webster and Rebecca Fitch are thanked for assisting with all the logistical arrangements. Dr. Andre Ganswindt and Stefanie Münscher are thanked for teaching us how to take tooth moulds. Dave Tindall, thank you for all your logistical support with regards to gate entry. We appreciate the support given by Brain Masters and Odette Schuldt from Tanda Tula Safari Lodge. Paul White and Colin Rowles from Timbavati and Klaserie Private Nature Reserves provided valuable man-power. Last but not least we would like to thank all the guests that participated in the collaring operations that not only helped to make it a memorable experience but your financial contributions have gone towards the management of the Reserves. 3 Your thoughts… We would like to thank Howard Blight for this month’s contribution. The following account has been transcribed without alteration. Here's a trunk-full - cheers! her trunk. Perhaps this was the result of a wire snare having tightened, completely During the dry months of 1996, my family restricting the blood flow. and I were visiting our game-farm in the Timbavati Nature Reserve. We had guests Then, to our amazement, the short-trunk from Spain with us - Colleen and John Haak. elephant shuffled her way between the other There is a water-trough positioned some 150 elephants standing around the trough and the metres from the front lawn of our camp and adult to her left lifted her trunk and offered the elephants would come down and drink the contents to the inflicted animal. She each evening. We found it fascinating to lifted her stump out of the way and allowed watch these huge grey forms loom out of the her assistant to assist her to drink her fill. fading light and stand around the three metre This action was repeated a number of times diameter trough and shlurp the water into before the herd left. Pete Lombard, who was their trunks. Then, like a well-rehearsed the Warden at this time, said he had puppet show, the elephants would lift their observed the same elephant being fed by the heads and insert the lips of their trunks into others. The elephants would pull branches to their gaping mouths and inject six to eight the ground and the inflicted cow would then litres of water down their gullets. kneel and eat. One evening, we noticed that a fully grown We all stood around quite amazed at the female had a short trunk. On examining her level of consciousness and awareness there through the binoculars, our worst fears were was between these African giants. confirmed. The animal had lost about 3/4 of Young bull with a missing trunk segment as described in Howard’s account. This animal was photographed by Dave Jackaman on the 10th of January 2006 on White’s Avoca in the Timbavati. As his body condition is good and as the tip of his trunk has healed it would appear as if he has adapted to his handicap. 4 WHO’S-WHO………? This regular feature will serve as an introduction to individual elephants with which we have become familiar in the APNR. Here we focus on an elephant bull named Darwin…. Darwin has been known to us for many years. He was first seen in 1997 and is easy to recognise because of his floppy left ear. He has a very relaxed nature, even whilst in musth. Darwin comes into musth from approximately May-July each year. He is a regular visitor to Ingwelala and Tanda Tula. If you are interested in getting to recognise individual elephants, Darwin will be the perfect candidate to start on because of his distinctive features. We would appreciate any sightings that you make of this bull. FACT-FILE: All About Elephant Teeth A pair of milk tusks erupts at about 5-7 months, preceding the permanent tusks. Permanent tusks appear on average in bulls at approximately 18 months and in cows at 27 months. Tusks of both bulls and cows grow throughout their lives, albeit much slower in cows. In bulls, the tusks grow at an accelerated rate during the last ten years of their lives. Tusk circumference rather than tusk length is a better indication of age in mature animals. Unlike Asian elephants, in which only males have tusks, both male and female African elephants have tusks. However, due to the hunting pressure brought about by poaching for ivory, tusklessness has become a condition in certain populations. Excessive hunting and poaching in most parts of Africa have caused large tusked individuals to be a rare sight. These animals should be treasured as a national asset. As elephants feed up to 18 hours a day, their teeth wear down at alarming rates. Unlike humans, they can’t depend on two sets of teeth but have six sets of chewing teeth (molars) in their lifetimes. Tusks do not wear out so fast, so an elephant does not grow more than one set in its life. Tusks are rootless, just like human milk teeth. Elephants use their tusks for bark stripping trees or digging for roots, and in social encounters as an instrument of display or as a weapon. Elephants are unable to accommodate all their teeth in their jaw at once and as molars wear down they are pushed forward, the front wearing into a shelf as the roots are absorbed. When the shelf eventually breaks off the remaining fragment of the tooth is pushed out. The last and sixth molar can weigh almost 4 kg and has a grinding length of 21cm and a width of over 7 cm. This tooth is in wear for up to two fifths of the animal’s life. 5 ] Grassroots ] by Andrea Webster Thanks to a donation administered by the Wildlife and Environmental Society of Southern Africa (WESSA), from the late Mrs. Phyll Gower, the Transboundary Elephant Research Programme held their first environmental appreciation and awareness programme at the Timbavati Bush School from the 20-22 September 2006. Eight children of reserve staff met us at the gate, toting little suitcases and with big eyes they jumped onto the land rover not quite sure what to expect. After settling in to their rooms and getting acquainted we began the program. Painting each others faces was the first activity which everyone enjoyed and when the traditional Inyanga (herbalist) arrived to give the children a talk on the uses of the plants in the area, they didn’t hesitate to paint her face too. After learning what plants to use for everyday amenities, toothbrushes, shampoo and moisturizer the children relaxed before dinner. Odette prepared a delicious meal eaten around the fire and once the tummies were full things were made interesting by the swapping of traditional stories. Eckson and Harry proved to be wonderful story tellers and were surpassed only by Remember and Roni who delighted everyone with their facial expressions and detailed descriptions. The following day we were off to an early start to track elephants. Our first sighting was of two cows, separated from the herd and rather nervous but the children watched quietly while one of them trumpeted and gave a warning charge. Our next sighting was of Becks, a huge musth bull who came close enough for Eckson to reach out and touch. After that the vehicle was alive with excited chatter and imitations of Eckson and the elephant. After a late lunch, Michelle and the children made musical instruments from the pods of the Snuff-box tree filled with lucky beans, stones and river sand and waited for the evening’s entertainment. Lodrick Manyatele and the Ringetani Community Project provided an evening of traditional dancing and drumming. It didn’t take long for the children to hijack the ostrich feathers and arm bands worn by the dancers and try their 6 hands at the complicated routines. A hearty dinner prepared by Harry was enjoyed by all with more stories and much laughter. When eyes started drooping and heads started lolling, Ringetani set off home. Friendships were forged and cultural legends revived. On the last day, after a late breakfast, we set off tracking with Eckson. The children marvelled at his ability to interpret the stories in the sand and we all listened with fascination as Eckson explained what he saw. After that it was back to camp to make bush mobiles from interesting bits and pieces collected on the walk. To end off the programme, everybody helped plant a Jackal-berry tree, enforcing the value of taking only what you can use from nature and putting something back, a valuable principal to acquire at a young age. Thank you We would like to thank the Gower Trust for making the money available for our first Grassroots Programme and WESSA for administering the funds. Charles De Villiers is thanked for making the bush school in the Timbavati available for the programme. Paul and Linda de Luca are thanked for donating trees towards the programme. Pat and Eileen Donaldson never failed to be supportive. SASOL is thanked for donating posters. We are grateful to Paul and Jeffrey for all their help with translation of the booklets, telephone calls and other material. Harry and Eckson, thank you for being so helpful for the duration of the programme. Odette, thank you for your delicious meals and support. Dominique, the donation of fudge, booklets and pencils came in very handy. Brian from Tanda Tula Safari lodge is thanked for being so accommodating to all our strange requests and allowing the participation of everyone involved. Finally to all parties involved, we had great fun and we look forward to keeping you updated on future programmes. 7 SPECIAL REQUESTS We will be unable to meet the objectives of this study without your input and support. We therefore have the following requests and appeals to make… : ELEPHANT IDENTIFICATION KIT: If you are keen to assist in collecting elephant ear patterns or if you have taken any elephant photos and would like to make these available, we would be most appreciative. Please contact us at (015) 7930369 or email us at firstname.lastname@example.org NEWSLETTER: If you would like to contribute to the newsletter in any way please contact us, especially if you have come to know specific elephants over the years and have some interesting stories to tell. Your stories will appear in the section entitled ‘Your Thoughts’. : ELEPHANT MORTALITIES: We are purring together a map of all natural mortalities of elephants within the region. If you have ANY historic information of elephant deaths that occurred on your property we would greatly appreciate it if you could provide us with the information. : RAINFALL DATA: We want to investigate patterns in rainfall variability within the APNR and are looking for reliable records from as many different locations as possible. In particular we are looking for daily rainfall data. Our thanks to all those who have supplied us with rainfall data. Please let us know if anybody else is able to make such data available. : BOOKS AND STATIONARY FOR THE GRASSROOTS PROGRAMME: If you have any reading material, stationary or duplicate field guides that you would like to donate towards our educational programme, we would be most grateful. : VEGETATION MONITORING AND TRAINING We have noticed that many landowners have started wire-netting trees. Please could you notify us if you have done so as data will need to be collected in these areas. As the number of trees that need to be monitored are growing, we would need to train and employ a local person to become involved in the vegetation work for the entire APNR. If you think that you would be prepared to sponsor such a person financially, please contact us. : DONATIONS AND CONTRIBUTIONS: We are very grateful to all the landowners and interested parties that have submitted photographs and made financial contributions towards the project. A comprehensive list of all contributions will be periodically updated on our website. As this costly project is dependent on donations any financial contributions can be made to the Transboundary Elephant Research Programme, account number 033356165, Standard Bank, Hoedspruit, Branch Code 052752. We wish you a peaceful festive season and a 2007 filled with promise and joy!