Among the Elephants Blog

Field visits to Shimba Hills (16th March - 18th March 2003)
March 28, 2003
Save the Elephants

The dung samples are to be analysed to determine the stress levels and the relationships between various elephant populations.

We went to Shimba Hills Game Reserve first where we found fresh elephant tracks, but unfortunately no elephants were sighted nor any fresh elephant dung was found. We managed to collect one sample which was about a day old. We decided to head to Mwaluganje Elephant Game Sanctuary as we had been informed that there were many elephants along the river. On the way to Mwaluganje we were lucky to see a family of 22 elephants about 10 metres away from the main road, drinking in a swamp.

However, they were very nervous and within a few seconds, disappeared into the bush. We saw some elephants as soon as we entered Mwaluganje, but they were near the river and the bush was incredibly thick. We drove along the main road but unfortunately didn't find any fresh dung nor any elephants that were close to the road. We left Mwaluganje soon after, and less than a kilometre from Kwale, we saw a young female near the main road who appeared quite nervous and disappeared into the bush.

We noticed that the elephants outside Shimba and Mwaluganje were comparatively more nervous than the ones we saw inside. We followed the young female for about half an hour hoping she would come out, but she stayed in the bush. We tracked her movements, but found no dung along her trail. 17th March 2003: We headed back to Mwaluganje on Monday morning. We went straight down to the river and David went on foot to a group of 9 bulls. He saw a lot of dung, but unfortunately the elephants did not move away. At one point, 8 of the bulls moved away, but one remained and after a while, they all came back.

These bulls were also relatively calm and we assume this is due to the presence of fishermen in the area and they seem to be habituated to them. We managed to collect 1 sample on the main road and then left Mwaluganje, heading for Tsavo East National Park. 18th March 2003: We entered Tsavo East National Park through Voi Gate, early Tuesday morning. We managed to collect 11 samples near Voi Safari Lodge. There were waterbuck, impala and buffalo in the area who were a bit nervous of our presence, so David did all the sampling in the car. David putting a sample in the vial We then headed out towards the pipeline, where we heard that a burst section was attracting many elephants.

Along the way, we came across a large family of elephants and noticed that most of the elephants had incredibly long tusks compared to other elephants we have seen. We collected 3 samples from this family. Long tusked female near Voi Safari Lodge As we drove along the pipeline we came across a family of 12 elephants. We approached the elephants, who were still about 50 metres away. One of the females suddenly turned towards us and charged us with extreme force and vigour.

She did not stop and as we reversed and turned the car, we thought she was about to hit the back of the car. We drove at full speed and she eventually stopped and disappeared in the bush, very annoyed and making a lot of noise. We drove off slowly away from the family in the opposite direction, thoroughly shaken up. We left Tsavo East with a total of 14 samples and headed back to Nairobi in the late afternoon. In total, we had managed to collect 18 samples. Shimba Hills and Mwaluganje had been a bit frustrating due to the restricting terrain and high temperatures, but Tsavo East had been successful and scary due to the charge. However overall, it had been a very successful trip.

Our main observations of differences between the Mwaluganje/Tsavo elephants and Samburu elephants:

· The tusks are a lot longer in the females and bigger in the bulls in Mwaluganje and


· The elephants are bigger in general compared to the Samburu ones

· Elephants near or outside Mwaluganje were nervous and agitated by our presence. This was mainly in the corridor.

· Elephants in Mwaluganje were calm and not bothered by our presence

· The behaviour of the elephants in Tsavo varied. Some families were calm, others were extremely nervous.

Tree damage in Mwaluganje In Tsavo, we noticed that the trees were not debarked as much as in Samburu. However, we noticed a considerable amount of tree damage in Mwaluganje.