Save Virunga’s Elephants

Elephants in Africa are close to extinction. While 1.3 million elephants were counted on the African continent in 1979, less than 30 years later, in 2007, their number had fallen to only 500,000. Since then, elephant poaching has seen a massive increase because of rising demand for ivory, especially from Asia. Between 2000 and 2012, the number of elephants was reduced by another 100,000, meaning that the elephant population on the continent was reduced by almost a quarter in only 12 years. Corruption, the enormous demand for ivory and the high profits involved make it difficult to protect these unique, intelligent and highly social land mammals. The elephant population in the Congo has been reduced by 90% over the last few years!

In the Virunga National Park the number of elephants has fallen from 3600 to only 200, and the killing continues.

The project "Save Virunga’s Elephants" consists of two sub-projects:

1. The Congohound Project: "The Park Police"
The rangers of the Congohound Unit have been trained to do police work and investigate the scenes of poaching crimes. With the help of their specially trained dogs they also trail poachers and find hidden weapons and ivory. As the biggest part of the park’s elephant population lives in the savanna at the center of the park, which is located in the so-called Tsetse Belt, we need to protect our dogs from the dangerous sleeping sickness by building special kennel compounds and putting up tsetse traps in the ranger stations where the dogs will spend much time.

a) We will build special kennel compounds in five ranger stations, at a cost of CHF 10,000 / compound. We have already been able to cover the costs of three compounds through donations made by STAB and Wilhelma Zoo and are currently looking for sponsors for the remaining two compounds.
b) Tsetse traps: We will put up 5-10 tsetse traps in the stations. Estimated costs for material, construction and operation of these traps amount to CHF 500 / trap. So far we have not been able to cover these costs.

2. GPS Collars for the Matriarchs of the Remaining Herds
The program to protect mountain gorillas is a rare success story in recent species protection efforts. The population of mountain gorillas had decreased to about 400 animals and the species was close to extinction. Thanks to the commitment and dedication of the rangers, who have been risking their lives to watch and protect the animals over decades, the population of mountain gorillas has doubled. This goes to show that it is indeed possible to save even the most endangered of species by guarding the animals around the clock. We are now trying to apply the same principle to Virunga’s elephant herds. Special ranger units will continuously accompany and protect the herds. The problem with this plan is that elephants migrate a lot and are often very difficult to locate. This is why we intend to put GPS collars on the matriarchs of the documented elephant herds, making it possible to locate the individual herds via a secure system and to keep ranger units close at all times.

15 herds will be put under permanent protection:
Kasali Mountains (forest): 5 herds
Lulimbi (savanna): 6 herds
Ishango (savanna): 4 herds
After a herd has been located the matriarch will be sedated from a helicopter and will then be collared. The collar will transmit the herd’s current position in real time via a secure satellite. This will enable the rangers to guard and protect the herds around the clock.

Relevant Costs:
• Rental of a helicopter
• Wildlife veterinarian for the sedation and monitoring of the animals
• Drugs
• Special GPS collars
• Satellite link / electronic systems at the project headquarters
• Financing of special ranger units to guard the herds around the clock
Estimated costs per herd: CHF 10,000
Total cost: CHF 150,000

Below: The highly intelligent and social animals can easily distinguish between friends and foes, as this remarkable photo demonstrates. It shows a wild bull visiting the rangers and showing his gratitude.