Guest Blog – Ensuring the survival of elephants and their habitats and promoting their harmonious co-existence with humans.

About Elephants Alive

For more than twenty years, Elephants Alive (originally Save the Elephants SA), has been studying the elephants of the Greater Kruger Area, more recently known as the Great Limpopo Transfrontier Park.

Our study area spans three countries and includes the Kruger National Park (KNP) and reserves bordering the Park: the Associated Private Nature Reserves (APNR) - Timbavati, Klaserie, Umbabat, Balule, and Thornybush - in South Africa, Gonarezhou National Park in Zimbabwe and Parque Nacional de Limpopo in Mozambique.

Timbavati's Connection with Elephants Alive

There is a long standing history and connection to the Timbavati Private Nature Reserve (TPNR). Dr. Michelle Henley, Co-founder, Director & Principal Researcher of Elephants Alive, was first based at Tanda Tula a number of years back. The two entities support one another’s conservation objectives. Firstly, the Timbavati provides access to the Reserve, which enables our Elephants Alive team to continue their ongoing research and monitoring. This, in turn, provides valuable information to TPNR in understanding the long-term movements and population dynamics of these free ranging large mammals. These important findings assist and inform long-term conservation planning and management within the APNR.

Dr. Michelle Henley in action.

Elephants Alive's Projects

1. Identifying Individual Elephants

We have developed an identification database with photographs and drawings of unique features of over 2000 elephants. We identify individual elephants by their sex, ear patterns (tears, notches, holes) and the shape of their tusks. Monitoring individual elephants for nearly 25 years has given us insight into their social bonds, breeding behaviour and movements over time.
Elephants Alive has the longest and most consistent elephant tracking data in southern Africa, providing fundamental information for reserve managers in the Great Limpopo Transfrontier Park.
Our research highlights the importance of older bulls in elephant society. Elephants revere their elders, relying on them as mentors that discipline younger bulls.

Classic, an iconic bull, first collared in 2004 C. Mike Kendrick

2. Tracking Elephant Movements with Radio Collars

Since 1998, we have also radio-collared more than 80 elephants in South Africa, and more recently in Mozambique. Collaring elephants provides us with critical scientific information about what drives their movements (safety, sex, food and water).  We map “fear-landscapes” using elephants’ movements to tell us which areas they are avoiding.  Our remote-tracking detects if a collar has become immobile, if it is too close to human infrastructure or if it moved at non-elephant speeds – all of which could indicate potential poaching events.
We monitor a number of large-tusked bulls which are representative of a bygone era, before the upsurge in ivory poaching. As Africa has already lost a large number of elephants to poaching, Elephants Alive is taking proactive measures to combat this scourge by deploying collars in the Great Limpopo Transfrontier region.

CEO, Dr. Michelle Henley collaring Classic - LR - c. Mike Kendrick

3. Reducing Human-Elephant Conflict

Elephants Alive promotes harmonious co-existence between elephants and humans, and to this end, it addresses private landowners' concerns about elephant impact on large trees.  Numerous artificial water points in the Private Reserves adjoining the KNP have attracted elephants throughout the year into areas they would normally have frequented seasonally. The unnatural water distribution has resulted in undue pressure on large trees in these areas. In order to protect large iconic trees, Elephants Alive has developed several mitigation strategies.

To understand elephant impact on the habitat, Elephants Alive has been monitoring over 3,000 individual trees since 2004. Our studies focus on Marula, Knobthorn and False Marula trees. It also includes nearly 300 trees in which vultures and southern ground hornbills nest.  Wire netting has been carefully wrapped around half of the study trees to prevent bark stripping by elephants. The results from this study have highlighted that this is a cost-effective measure to protect large trees.

It is known that elephants fear bees, as bee stings can seriously harm elephants when they sting the soft flesh around elephants' eyes and trunks. Elephants Alive uses innovative research pioneered by Save the Elephants to protect iconic Marula trees. We use beehives suspended in a number of these trees to protect them from elephant impact and have been able to evaluate the effectiveness of this method of tree protection. Our research has shown that beehives are by far the most effective mitigation method of protecting iconic trees.

4. Environmental Education and Community Initiatives

In order to ensure the long-term survival of elephants and their habitats, it is critical to involve local people with our efforts. Our education programmes in rural communities and schools focus on environmental awareness.
We foster linkages with nearby villagers, landowners, lodge managers and guides as well as national and international scientists and conservationists. We encourage building relationships for generations to come, and we prioritise women, including grandmothers who are the pillars of society, similar to the elephant societies we study.  Hence, we use grandmothers to nurture bee-gardens with honey as the rewarding and income-generating ecosystem service. We increase our sphere of influence by collaborating with the Black Mamba Anti-Poaching Unit (, promoting community liaison efforts and providing inspirational role models for young learners. We also work closely with Wild Shots Outreach (, and the Bush Babies, a branch of the Black Mamba APU, focusing on children’s environmental education.
Promoting positive relations with surrounding communities is one of the most effective ways of diminishing Human-Elephant-Conflict (HEC).

With expanding human populations putting ever more pressure on Africa’s reserves and National Parks, and increasing threats from poaching, Elephants Alive’s work is ever more crucial.

Thank You!

Elephants Alive would like to say a very big thank you to all the APNR landowners who allow our research vehicle onto their properties, and also to the wardens for their input with research logistics and collaring. Without your support, our work would not be possible.

More Information

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We have also produced an Elephant ID Guide featuring more than 30 of the iconic elephants known to frequent the APNR. R200 each. Please contact us for further details.
We welcome sightings of large tusker bulls - please email photographs and location to