Today I tagged along Jerenimo; Research & Community Outreach Officer, Desmond; Education Officer and four students under the STE scholarship program. We did not count our ungulate friends because it was an ‘elephants-only’ monitoring day also referred to as Long Term Monitoring (LTM). This, as I came to learn, is the ‘engine’ of all activities conducted by the research camp. We looked out for family units, individual members, what they were up to, where and who they hang out with.
One thing I noted is that elephants usually come down to the river to quench their thirst in the morning. By midday you wouldn’t see much of them around the river banks; they’d have taken their mud bath, drunk to their fill and gone back to the heart of the reserve. Having known where to locate our targets, we drove straight to the river bank on the Eastern part of the camp. The ride involved going through, around and among the families! I was scared but excited enough to roll down the car window. I couldn’t help but watch in awe as Generosity waved her trunk in the air as if to say hello! She was grazing only a few inches from where I was. The thing that strikes you about Generosity is her beautiful pair of symmetrical and proportional tusks plus the ease at which she relates with the ‘morning visitors’.
We recorded their behavior, identified several family members together with the young calves grazing timidly by their parents’ feet. The most interesting thing about LTM is that you have to know (almost) every individual by their name/ code and also distinguish whether they are residents or immigrants from neighboring parks and reserves. Jerenimo knows just about every individual in each family. It was like identifying friends you’ve hang out with for so long! From this exercise, I was able to identify certain social behaviors in elephants: Grooming, ‘greeting’, defense among others. One of the females was very protective of her young calf when the car inched closer.
On our way back we were able to catch a glimpse of lion cubs taking cover from the intense heat or were they waiting for mom to bring food back home? Perhaps!