ABOUT 30 elephants in Ruaha National Park (RNP) are lined up for collaring with GPS satellite collars as the government intensifies the war against poaching in addition to enhancing collection of important data.
The exercise, which is expected to begin soon, will be implemented through the government’s Strengthening the Protected Areas Network in the Southern Tanzania (SPANEST) project, which is supported by the government, United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and Global Environment Facility (GEF).
SPANEST Project Coordinator Godwell Meing’ataki told the ‘Daily News’ over the weekend that the government has already announced the tender for companies that will conduct the exercise of collaring the elephants.
“The government has already announced the tender and sometimes next month, we will know the winning company to conduct the exercise of collaring the elephants,” he reported.
He said the exercise will involve a team of scientists, researchers and veterinarians, who will track the elephants by helicopter, safari vehicles and on foot looking for suitable elephant to dart and collar.
Mr Meing’ataki said once all 30 elephants are fitted with the GPS satellite collars, they will be monitored for a period of time while the data collected will be used to map out migratory routes and other security measures to be taken to protect the animals from poaching.
“Poaching is a problem and we must take all measures to stop it. The exercise will involve collaring leaders of the elephant packs who are elderly females who can easily sense danger and lead their packs to safety or identify watering areas,” he further explained.
Collected from the collars will also help park’s leadership when planning patrol routes so that they can go to where the elephants are.
“We want to know where the elephants are at all times. When the park’s leadership is planning patrols routes, they will know where to go.
We don’t want to see the rangers going north when the elephants are in the southern side,” he observed. “The collaring project will act as anti-poaching measure and will help monitor behavioural changes, identify human-wildlife conflicts and help develop new elephant corridors,” he elaborated.
The satellite-connected collars will also help understand elephant population movements as well as key habitat utilisation. Mr Meing’ataki said ability to monitor and follow collared elephants will make it easier to identify any poaching threats to wildlife and deploy the Parks Rapid Response Teams (RRT), which have been trained and equipped with modern techniques to counter the threats.
“The satellite collars that will be fitted on the elephants will be sending back data after every 30 minutes and if there is a threat to the elephants, whoever is monitoring the data will send coordinates of the area to the RRT for action,” he explained.
“Among those that will be fitted with the collars are leaders of elephant parks, who are elderly women who can identify danger and lead the park of elephants to safer areas.
RNP Chief Warden, Dr Christopher Timbuka, welcomed the idea, saying aside from providing important information; it will also curb poaching incidents.
“This is something we are all looking forward to because we want to protect the more than 20,000 elephants in the park,” he explained.
Countries that have had their elephants fitted with satellite collars include Kenya, Botswana, Namibia, Zambia, Angola and Zimbabwe.
The SPANEST project, which is being executed by the Tanzania National Parks Authority (TANAPA), has support from the government, UNDP and GEF to the tune of more than 15 million US dollars.