Gabon Fights Poaching with Elephant GPS Tracking collars

Technology is helping Gabon combat poachers with the latest GPS tracker collars. The country’s National Parks Agency (APN) has started to fit elephants with the collars. In January of 2018, the team has already fitted 10 elephants in the Mwanga National Park and 8 elephants in the Ivindo National park. The initial project will fit 20 elephants with the tracking collars.

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Image of Elephant walking

The elephant population in Gabon’s Minkébé National Park is facing an existential crisis. According to a 2017 study, more than 25,000 elephants were poached in the span of 10 years from 2004 to 2014. They are killed mainly for the ivory which is a highly-valued commodity in Asian countries like Vietnam, Thailand, and China. It has resulted in an elephant population drop between 78% and 81%. If the trend continues, it can wipe out the whole population. So the government of Gabon is taking strong steps to fight the poachers. The effort is organized under the banner “The Project to Combat Wildlife Crime and Ivory Trafficking in Gabon”.

The Gabon “Tracking collars” project

The project started as a cooperation between France and Gabon. It was started as a Debt Conversion Agreement. Currently, the prominent veterinarians in the project are Dr. Pete Morkel (South Africa), Richard Harvey (Britain), and Dr. Patrice Moukouloutou Nzazi (Gabon). Also, Gabonese trackers Malouata Miche and Emile Beb are assisting the team on the ground. The tracking collars are tracking devices which help different authorities to monitor the movements of the herds. If there is a poaching attempt, authorities are able to pinpoint the area easily. It makes it harder for criminals to successfully poach a large number of animals.

Image of Elephant with poached tusks

Besides poaching prevention, with the use of a tracking system, the tracker devices will also help scientists gain insight into the behavioral patterns of the animals. Scientists can use the information to understand the interaction between the different habitats. It will also shed light on the adaptation mechanism of the elephants to surrounding artificial infrastructure changes. It can lead to better conservation programs and improve the future prospects of these giant animals.

The Gabon project was inspired by Kenya’s success. Kenyan Wildlife Service along with Narok County Council and World Wildlife Fund has fitted 20 elephants with tracking collars in the Tsavo ecosystem. The Tsavo ecosystems are home to more than 12,000 elephants.

Putting the collars on the large animals is not an easy task. That’s why the program targets a handful of animals. The GPS tracked elephants are used to pinpoint the whereabouts of the whole herd.

Image of a herd of Elephants with Tracking collars

How can you help

Both the Gabon and Kenyan projects are great examples of how the latest technology can help all living things on the planet. If you are interested, you can help the elephants through the Smithsonian’s “Gabon Biodiversity Program”. The Smithsonian program is dedicated to monitoring biodiversity in Gabon, identifying best practices and promoting sustainability. Its Human-Elephant Conflict research program concentrates on poaching and other threats to the Gabon elephant population.

Any donations you make to the Smithsonian Gabon Biodiversity Program will also help stop the unnecessary slaughter of these large creatures.