Dr. Joyce Poole, one of the world's top elephant experts, came to Gorongosa in 2011 to begin a multi-year study of Gorongosa’s elephants - she and her ElephantVoices partner, Petter Granli and other team members will be getting to know all the
individuals in the population, determining their age and sex, their family and clan structures, their home ranges, etc. They will also be monitoring the lingering effects of Mozambique's civil conflict on the elephants – examining how it has impacted the population’s sex ratio, age structure and the degree of tusklessness. Many of today’ adults were orphaned during that period and a number of the older elephants in Gorongosa exhibit aggression towards vehicles. While the coordinated defensive behavior exhibited by some of the Gorongosa females is normal anti-predator behavior, its direction toward people can be traced to the trauma they suffered during the 1980s and 90s. We want them to understand that tourists are not predators and that they do not have to fear people in vehicles Gorongosa. Joyce will work to habituate these leaders to tourists, rebuild their trust, knowing that elephants are smart enough to distinguish between people who represent a threat and those who do not.
As in many places across Africa, Gorongosa experiences some human-elephant conflict in the form of crop-raiding. Joyce and her team will be working to identify the flashpoints where such conflict occurs and provide villagers with the knowledge and tools they need to avoid conflict with elephants.
Her work is sure to produce incredible insights into the behavior of Gorongosa's beloved giants and provide conservationists across Africa with valuable data that will help them manage and protect these beautiful but vulnerable animals.
We tracked Joyce down and asked her about her work:
Q: How do you track elephants?
Getting to know a population means learning their routines, their favorite places to be. Mind you, these are not small geographical locations I am speaking of. Once I get to these areas the real work begins - scanning the horizon, listening for their calls or the cracking of branches, searching for fresh tracks and even using my sense of smell. Some probably won't believe me, but when I am searching for elephants I often get the feeling, "there are no elephants here today", the air around me is simply empty of elephants, it lacks a certain energy. I am not a believer in the paranormal and have put this feeling down to being so tuned into elephants that I pick up on their presence - their low frequency calls, their smell, in unconscious ways.
Q: How do you identify individual elephants?
eight educational modules explaining the different terms we use to ID elephants (such as "scoop-notch" or "lobes curling out" or "flap-cut") and how to use these characteristics to identify the elephants.
Park visitors can help me and participate in their own elephant research by sharing their photos of Gorongosa's elephants with us. Share your photo to contribute.
Q: How do you tell the age of the elephants?