Base Stations Project 2014

Looking to the future of ecology?

Tracking animals is a vital tool for park managers and ecologists in aiding management decisions. Knowing what habitat the animals utilize as well as what they eat and who they associate with are necessary in managing the populations particularly in small reserves. Tembe Elephant Park is a small reserve (300km2) situated on the boundary between South Africa and Mozambique in northern Zululand.

Being on the border also makes the reserve vulnerable to poaching as despite herculean efforts by field rangers of Ezemvelo KZN Wildlife (the management authority), the park has been targeted by syndicates operating in Mozambique and rhinos, elephants and lions have been lost. Field rangers patrol routes in and around the reserve daily, and the anti-poaching unit (the special forces of the park) respond to any incursions and engage heavily armed poachers intent on killing rhinos. Both field rangers and anti-poaching units are trained and well armed and not only daily face the threat of poachers, but work on foot in environs that include thick bush and forest teaming with forest cobras, black mambas, puff adders, lions, leopard, elephant, and buffalo. Not work for the timid.

Without the selfless work of these Ezemvelo teams, rhinos would have been long gone. Knowing the movements of rhinos and other key species not only contribute to ecological information, butt is also key in the security of these animals. With this in mind, the Wild Lion Trust (SA) in association with As Wild As (UK) and Wild Tomorrow Fund (USA) are supporting Ezemvelo in Tembe Elephant Park in testing and deploying state of the art technology.

AWE Telemetry Systems jumped on board and have donated time and expensive technology in helping us turn Tembe into the most technologically advanced park in the world. The first two base stations of the new system have been up and running for a few months now testing various technologies. The first step is to find which frequency best works in the dense vegetation of Tembe. The technology will allow the park staff to track and find collared animals remotely as well as collect data crucial in understanding the role of key species across the landscape. Movement data will be collected almost hourly. Ezemvelo researchers can then download the data from any base station when required. If the researchers need to find a particular individual, they can query the base station, which will communicate to all other base stations located around the park, and return the location of that animal, all from the comforts of the office. Some of the test data has already proven to be far greater than initially believed, with information picked up 14km away. This is only the beginning and the system’s abilities are far ranging and are going to become integral in the fight against poaching while collecting the most incredible data.