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December 2006

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December 2006 Powered By Docstoc
					                                             December 2006
                                              Michelle and Steve Henley
                                         Postal address: P.O.Box 960, Hoedspruit, 1380
                                              Tel: 015-7930369, Fax: 015-7930496
                         Web address: 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.

                       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.

       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
                                                             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.

                              ]    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
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

                                  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…

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
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’.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!

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