In Samburu even going on a routine Long Term Monitoring (LTM) survey of elephants can be a huge adventure. David Daballen, our camp manager, and I set out yesterday evening to monitor the elephants living on the other side of the river. We had parked our vehicle at a derelict tourist lodge (abandoned due to the flood), but to get to it we needed to cross the wide but shallow river separating STE from the lodge. This was an experience in itself, as just last week a young girl had been eaten by crocodiles a kilometre upstream.
The abandoned lodge was a strange sight. Monkeys played in the once busy reception area, and vines had begun to grow over many of the buildings. After leaving the lodge and driving east parallel to the river for some distance we began to encounter elephant families. We came to an area amusingly named Champagne Ridge; essentially an almost perfectly circular patch of grass a kilometre in diameter encircled by a thick belt of trees. This intimate and natural setting made the, by now familiar, experience of driving into an elephant family group even more breathtaking. We identified one family; the Planets, in Champagne Ridge. The Planets are normally a very tight nit family, but this evening however, they were spread throughout the area. This would likely be because of a death of one of the family’s matriarch’s. Although it was getting quite dark, David and I continued the search to uncover what had caused these elephants to split up. However, due to failing light we had to call it off, and hastily made our way back to the abandoned tourist lodge, which looked even eerier in darkness. We made sure to take extra care when crossing back over the river; crocodiles use darkness to their advantage when stalking prey!
However due to all the valuable data collected from LTM, they are well worth our trouble. Using LTM data we can determine the birth/death ratio of elephants in the reserve, determine their locations, movements, even quantify their tameness by family, all of which are imperative to the ongoing conservation effort.