Elephants of the Red Volta


Bernard Lesowapir

Date Published

In July this year, EarthWatch Institute (Europe) offered Save the Elephants a fully-funded place on one of its projects, Elephants of the Red Volta in Ghana-African capacity building programme. The Project aims to provide information to conserve the fauna and flora of the Red Volta River Valley through a Community Collaborative Reserve, with special emphasis on reversing the decline in a small population of migratory elephants in the area where Ghana meets Burkina Faso and Togo. STE nominated Bernard Lesowapir (Kenya) and Steve Henley (SA) to attend this fellowship. Below is Bernard’s report on the trip…


The trip to Ghana was an exciting experiences and fabulous opportunity. The trip was very well arranged/organised such that the whole journey seemed so normal and Ghana itself looked like a place I have always been. We took off at JKIA at exactly 12:25 pm We had a stop in Corte de’Ivore to refuel and drop off and pick up some more passengers travelling to Ghana. This being my first time to travel to the west, and actually out of the country, I was very happy to experience and see practically by my self the three hour time difference between Ghana and Kenya since we departed at day time. We were received by the Earth Watch members and the NCRC personnel. We were then taken to sign our official forms then headed straight to the luggage claim area to collect our luggage but unfortunately none arrived. We were then advised to fill in the forms and wait for the luggage in two to three days time. It took longer than that because of the distance between the research site and the airport. After filling all the required documents, we then headed to Palloma Hotel where Earth Watch reserved rooms for us.

Early in the morning, we woke up at 4 O’clock and drove for 15 hours to Mole National park on our way to the research site. This is the only park that we were lucky to see some few animals including elephants. Wild life here is rarely seen outside the protected area but the few we saw in Mole are completely habituated. Elephants are friendlier than our Samburu ones. They walk at a very close distant to people and stand to let them pass. Crocodiles are even friendlier. It was a very extra ordinary to see a crocodile coming towards us and comfortably relaxed as you touch and sit on its back, lifting its tail and so on.

According to the field researcher working in the red Volta, the presence of Elephant in the area was last observed in 2003 but only the foot prints but used to be there some years back. It is not known what has caused the Elephants to leave the area. The Red Volta project is an attempt to understand and protect an internationally significant elephant migratory corridor between Ghana, Burkina Faso and Togo. Findings from this project are aimed at address the Ghana component of this effort.

Research Site:

The project was carried out within the Red Volta River Valley in the Upper East Region of Ghana. This area is located within latitude 10º 30’- 11º00’ North and longitude 0º45’ – 0º15’ West. The Red Volta River and its adjacent forests reserves is a significant feature of the area. On either side of the river are Traditional Authority Constituencies of three main tribes; the Kusasi, Nabdam and Gurune.

Much of the research area is located within forest reserves that are managed by the Forestry Services Division of the Forestry Commission of Ghana which the local communities are at present seeking collaborative management of these forests with the Forestry Commission. Other part of the research site is located on community lands that are managed by individuals for crop farming.

The focus of the expedition was mainly training as well as data collection. We go to the field every morning to collect data and had discussions and presentation in the afternoon and evenings.

My presentation was changed from Human Elephant Conflict to ‘Application of GIS in conservation’ and mainly Elephant movements. This was all done referencing the STE work and the new Animal tracking software written by David Gachuche.

Main aims:

1: Evaluate the presence, distribution, habitat use, and seasonal movement of elephants in the Red Volta Valley.

2: Assess Human Elephant conflicts (elephant crop raiding) in six (6) localities within the Red Volta Valley.

Data Collection:

We conducted activities relating to elephant distribution, habitat use, and seasonal movement, and human-elephant conflict.

Elephant population and distribution:

The methodology used here was counting Elephant dung to estimate elephant population. In this approach the PI and his team selected habitat cells each 1.8 x 1.8 km (one minute of latitude and longitude) within six research locales. The areas chosen in the cells are those which recorded high elephant prevalence in the past years, and which were accessible by the research truck. In each of the cells, we laid a 1-km transect consisting of 20 segments of 50m length and 20m wide (10m on each side of the centre line). Within this demarcation we searched and recorded the number of elephant and cattle dung piles. No elephant dung piles were recorded on the twelve transects surveyed during the expedition period. The cattle dung pile were recoded in almost all transects but varies from one transect to another. The dung survey data was intended show a corresponding low or high grazing intensity in the research area.

Habitat availability and use:

In order to describe habitat availability and utilization by elephants and other animals, we recorded parameters of the vegetation in 5 of the 20 segments of ten transects (i.e., in every 4th segment along the 1KM transect). In each of these 50 x 10m quadrant extending 5 m on each side of the centreline, we tallied trees by species, recorded their diameter at breast height (dbh), and tallied shrubs over 30 cm tall by species. We assessed browsing and damage by elephants on all the focal species in each quadrat and recorded specific parts of plants damaged and browsed by elephants. In each of the five quadrates per transect, we recorded disturbance to the vegetation by noting clearing and fire damage.


I’m very grateful to Earth watch Institute for their wonderful opportunity, arrangement and sponsorship to visit the Elephants of the Red Volta Project. Lots of thanks to Save the Elephants and particularly Iain Douglas-Hamilton and Njoki Kibanya for appointing me and for helping me get all the required travel documents.

I acknowledge the hospitality and goodwill of the chiefs and people of the Red Volta valley and particularly the Widnaba and Kusanaba Chiefs. I also appreciate the works of the local guides, cooks and community members whose collective efforts have resulted in insight understanding of the Ghanaian culture and area.

I’m Very grateful! Ashe Oleng’