Meet the Elephant Movement Analysts 


Save the Elephants

Date Published
When Iain Douglas-Hamilton began radio-tracking elephants in Tanzania in 1968 it transformed our understanding of how far some elephants travel, and how different their individual movements can be. Today, with the original VHF beacons now joined by GPS sensors, accelerometers, and satellite uplinks, the revelatory trickle of data has become a torrent.
Although born of research, the tracking technology soon proved a critical tool for running anti-poaching operations. Our real-time system for visualising tracking data has evolved into EarthRanger, Vulcan’s Domain Awareness System that is now deployed across 50 African protected areas. Alert algorithms monitor data streams for problems with these sentinel elephants, built on fundamental understanding of elephant behavior.
One of STE’s largest teams is our Geographical Information Systems (GIS) unit. Twelve people make maps to help understand elephant movements with relation to everything from the minute to minute decisions of a crop-raiding elephant to the generational changes in ranging behavior of an individual family as the landscape changes beneath their feet.
Ever more data is flowing into our systems from both within Kenya and across Africa, not just from tracking collars but from multi-spectral satellite photographs and other sources. From this white noise of data our research team work to understand how elephants make decisions, and how they are responding to the changes around them. These movement maps – presented to community elders, road and rail developers and politicians – are giving elephants a voice.
Photo caption: Benjamin Loloju (rear) and Nelson Mwangi, Geographic Information Systems specialists mapping elephant movements.
Photo credit: Jane Wynyard / Save the Elephants