Explore and Mpala Research Centre partner together to bring you our series of Africa Cams. The cams feature many stars, and perhaps none more famous than the families of majestic elephants. We present you an exciting guest blog by Mpala camera operator and elephant fanatic Suzie, whose handle is CamOpEle:
While filming elephants for the Africa Cams on May 14, 2014, I noticed a lone male who got into a long and dramatic play fight with another male in the river. I took pictures of his tusks and distinctive ear markings in the hopes I could recognize him again. That started my affectionate relationship with the elephant I call Attitude Boy or AB.
The Mpala movie “Elephants at the Crossroads” premiered and there he was – Attitude Boy, a movie star. Sandy Oduor was the elephant researcher interviewed in the film. I contacted him with the help of Cam Op An at Mpala and that started our interaction. I sent Sandy my photos of AB alongside his picture in the movie and asked for confirmation. I also told Sandy I had been taking pictures of the various families and bulls who visited our cam areas in the hopes of learning to identify them:
Sandy Oduor: Concerning the picture of the male you have sent me, yes I can confirm that it is the one that is in my video but unfortunately we haven’t updated it in the database since it is normally very skittish and shies away from me during my data collection.
Suzie/CamOpEle: That is interesting because he isn’t shy about confronting other male elephants.
Sandy Oduor: I must admit that you are very observant and keen about this particular male elephant. Bulls normally challenge each other to a contest to determine who is stronger but the challenge is not normally very fierce unless they are fighting over a female. So far we have cataloged 110 families since the project started but it is not possible to see all the families in a year. Your work may help me see more families that I might have missed during my field excursion. So far we have 139 bulls that we have cataloged. Most of the families are coming to Mpala because of pressure from neighboring ranches due to poaching and human wildlife conflict. They see Mpala as a safe heaven for them.
Suzie/CamOpEle: I feel so sad about the elephant with the holes in its trunk from the snare
Sandy Oduor: Ever since the incident, the elephant runs away from observers or hides in the thicket when approached. These are some of the studies we are carrying out concerning their behavior. Families that have had conflicts with humans or one of the members of the family have been poached tend to be skittish, frightened or terrified and run away from the observer. Those who have never faced such incidents tend to be calm for researchers.
Suzie/CamOpEle: How long have you been documenting the elephants?
Sandy Oduor: I have been doing this for 1 year now.
Suzie/CamOpEle: That elephant I call AB- you said he hides or leaves the area when you try to document him. Can you tell me approximately how far away he is from the cameras I see him on at the river? I’m curious how far these elephants travel around M’pala.
Sandy Oduor: The Elephant is about 50m away from the camera. As soon as you are through with the documentation let me know so that i can look at it and compare it which what we have recorded in our catalog and what we haven’t like the bull you call AB.
On August 14, 2014 Sandy asked for my help in locating a particular elephant and her family that he was concerned about. Her name was Jada and he was concerned because he had been unable to find her for awhile and she had previously been a victim of a poacher attack.
Sandy Oduor: There is one particular family that i have been looking for. It was shot by poachers about 2 years ago but luckily it managed to survive since we sought help from the veterinary doctors and it is now okay. We would still like to monitor the family. One day I saw it on live cameras. I am actually banking on you to help us monitor it. Mpala has been dry of late and hence it looks like it has been wandering in the neighboring ranches and around the live cameras. Considering the fact that I have to cover a wide area, it has been a long time since I recorded it in our database. I can send you a profile of the female that was shot by poachers but managed to survive.
I immediately started looking for her when I was on the cams and also reviewed all the footage of elephants seen by other Cam Ops.
Suzie/CamOpEle: I saw the male elephant that I call Attitude Boy at the river today- I can tell you something about his behavior – he loves to start play fights!
Sandy Oduor: Haha, It is good to know that they have started coming back.
September 2, 2104:
Suzie/CamOpEle: Sandy, I found Jada! She came to the river today with her baby.
Sandy Oduor: At last we have found Jada. Thanks so much Suzie for your dedication. This is surely Jada.
Suzie/CamOpEle: Of note, Jada has been seen with her little family of four as recently as March 31, 2015 when I noticed her left tusk is now broken off at least halfway. Every time I have seen her, she arrives via the road that is seen in the distance from the Lookout and Watering Hole cams and she has been seen close up on the River cam drinking water from the river at the rocks under the Acacia tree.