The Gamba Complex, lying on the south-western coast of Gabon, consists of two national parks: Moukalaba-Doudou (4,500 km2) and Loango (1,550 km2); and an industrial corridor (3,585 km2), used for oil industry operations and commercial forestry activity, and also the location of Gamba, the capital of Ndougou Department, with a population of over 9,000. Generally speaking, the human population density in this area is low, but it boasts an extraordinary biodiversity. The GBP is studying the behavioural ecology and genetic structure of forest elephants to help devise improved protocols for elephant monitoring over the long term, and establish management strategies to deal with human-elephant conflicts.
In partnership with the Smithsonian Institution, Shell Gabon is providing the majority of the funding for this project, led by Gabonese scientist Dr Mireille Johnson. One of the GBP’s objectives is to learn more about the distribution of groups of elephants living in close proximity to human populations. Dr Johnson and her team are doing this by identifying and counting the types of elephant visiting plantations and villages, and determining the profile of elephants that give rise to tension (establishing whether these are males on their own or in groups, or families consisting of females and calves, or migrant or resident individuals). As part of this operation, the team uses camera trapping to document elephant incursions into plantations and villages, genetic analysis of dung to create an individual bar code for each elephant and surveys among local communities to obtain more detailed records of damage caused by elephants.
Photographic trapping data collected since 2011 have identified more than thirty (30) different elephants passing through Shell Gabon’s Yenzi Camp near Gamba. The images provide invaluable information, meaning that each elephant can be recognised, and the number and composition of groups can be observed. Photographic trapping is also used to document elephant raids into the Gamba population’s manioc, banana and taro plantations. All this furthers our understanding of the elephants’ social organisation.
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