Darwin Initiative

AHP Elephants

Elephants & surrounding landscape

Elephants crossing through tea gardens

Elephant biology training
Elephant in tea garden
Monitoring using GPS
Cartoons by Alan Hesse

Monitoring Elephants

The Assam Haathi Project has trained more than 30 people from communities affected by elephants in each study area. These teams of field researchers collect information on elephant locations and behaviour locality, either through direct sightings, secondary evidence such as foraging evidence or tracks, or information from local villages. Data on herd location, movements, demography and general behaviour are recorded using GPS units (Global Positioning Systems), standardized questionnaires and monitoring sheets. This method gives us good information about the elephants and actively involves the communities in the work of understanding and managing human-elephant conflict.

A number of project staff have also been trained in elephant identification and tracking. Our database of elephant identification data is continually growing, and our field teams are now able to recognise individuals by their sex and age, as well as distinct features such as ear shape and scars. This information helps us link reports of  crop-raiding to elephant herds and allows us to track elephants as they move through the district. It also enables the identifcation of individual elephants, as some, in particular lone elephant bulls, can be more prone to crop-raiding than others.

All of the information collected is stored on a central database, which is linked to a Geographical Information System (GIS). The GIS allows us to query and analyse our data, and produce maps, which are a great tool for sharing our findings with the communities involved and helping them understand the bigger picture of the conflict.  GIS also allows us to carry out more advanced  spatial and statistical analyses on patterns of elephant movement and behaviour in relation to land use, season and human activities.

So far in the Assam Haathi Project we have deliberately kept our data collection methods simple and low-tech. Telemetry, i.e. fitting elephants with radio collars and tracking them remotely, has its advantages in terms of the amount and accuracy of data that can be collected. However, these high-tech methods are extremely expensive and do not as easily and as extensively involve local communities.  For the time being, our priority is to achieve active participation from the communities affected by elephant crop-raiding, in order to instill them with an opportunity to understand and appreciate the conflict, its challenges, and its possible solutions.

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