“A simple act of kindness and compassion towards a single animal may not mean anything to all creatures, but will mean everything to one.” ―
This is my follow-up blog post about our recent trip to Africa; Tanzania to be specific. Although there are many ways to take a safari trip, I learned of a non-profit organization concentrating its efforts on conservation in the Serengeti. So if you had a choice to take a Safari with a Purpose, one that aids in the conservation effort, would you do it? Let me show you the amazing Elephant Collaring Project we participated in with the Singita Grumeti Fund.
I’ve done a lot of charity work, fundraising and non-profit consulting in my life. When I was invited to participate on the Elephant Collaring Project I knew it would be an important moment in my travel adventures. But I had no idea how life changing it would be causing me to want to focus my efforts on wildlife conservation. My first blog post details the packing list for Africa and the second blog post gave you all the travel information needed to book an African safari. Today I will share the great work of the Singita Grumeti Fund and I promise you – you will want to get involved!
The Singita Grumeti Fund is a non-profit organization carrying out wildlife conservation and community development work in the western corridor of the Serengeti ecosystem in Tanzania. Their vision is a world in which people and wildlife live together sustainably, forever. Over 165 dedicated staff protect, manage and monitor Grumeti’s concessions where the near-barren plains of 15 years ago teem with wildlife once more. Their passion and commitment are driven by a history and led by a mission!
The work they do focuses on conservation, anti-poaching law enforcement, community outreach, research and monitoring, human/animal relationships and special projects. We got to tour and witness many of these efforts while we were there and I’m excited to share them with you.
I’m going to detail the Elephant Collaring Project (GPS tracking system) below in pictures with captions underneath. Additionally, I am including more photo safari pictures because you asked for more! Before I explain this special opportunity, I want to again thank my dear friend Ruth M. who invited me to join her on this special trip. Without her generosity, this would have never been possible for me. Thank you Ruth!
I know what you are thinking. How did you all get invited to go? The Sigita Grumeti Fund got 18 permits for elephant collaring and then reached out to their current donor database to extend invitations to join them on the research project. ANYONE can be a donor and they take donations in any amount! In fact, there are numerous projects that you can help fund so be sure to check out their website or you can e-mail them: firstname.lastname@example.org If you want to check their projects via video, click here. Their work is amazing!
To ensure that your grandchildren will have the opportunity to see these glorious creatures in their own habitat, may I suggest you focus on conservation efforts. Every little thing we do to preserve the ecosystem matters!
Let me know what you think about the project. xoxo – Tanya
P.S. The Grumeti Reserve is focused on conservation efforts. No animals are harmed or hunted on the reserve.
Singita Grumeti Fund | Elephant Collaring Project
A two-pronged project aimed at building a long-term data set to better understand elephant movements and distribution and as a management tool for preventing human-elephant conflict by allowing us to intervene and prevent elephants moving into farms and villages. The elephants like to leave the protected reserve to raid the villages and eat their crops at night. As you can imagine, this leads to human-wildlife conflict!
We had the opportunity to help the special projects and science team collar 6 elephants while we were on the Grumeti Reserve. This was concentrated into 2 days – 3 elephants per day. When you collar one elephant, the tracking team knows that it lives with a herd of 15-20 elephants, thereby allowing them to track a large herd. The collars have GPS tracking and the batteries will last about 3 years. This is plenty of data for the research team to gather for their study. You can also watch the movement of the collared elephants at command central which allows the Grumeti ground team to mitigate the conflict before it happens. Otherwise, irate farmers tend to want to destroy the elephants.
Of course, the vet, science team and special project team does all the important work but they did let us have 6 jobs to help out. Oddly enough, we felt entrenched in the project and 100% committed to making each elephants collaring experience quick and easy. It takes a total of 20 minutes from the time the elephant lays down from being darted by the vet until it gets up from the antidote shot. Our job was to 1) Cover the elephants eye with its ear (its retina can burn in the hot sun if it leaves its eye open while sedated) 2) Pour cold water on the elephant to help it stay cool 3) Pull a tail hair for DNA testing 4) Use the metal detector to see if a villager speared the elephant in the past (leaving the spear embedded) 5) Put a stick in the end of the elephant trunk and monitor its breathing (Ruth and I are doing this in the top picture) and 6) Spray paint the number of the collaring project on the rump of the elephant. This allows the team to avoid this herd on the next darting. The spray paint wears off after one week.
Phase one of the Elephant Collaring Project was done in early 2018, we were phase two. There were 6 patrons helping out with the project in addition to the full science team and special projects team. The entire project was meticulously thought out and I never felt in danger. We were prepped and trained the day before we got started with the work at hand.
A HUGE thank you to the Singeti Grumeti Fund leaders for letting us participate in their important project. Stephen Cunliffe: Executive Director, Grant Burden: Head of Special Projects, Noel Mbise: Head Ecologist, Dr. Kristen Denninger-Snyder: Post Doc Researcher (consultant to Singita Grumeti Fund and affiliated with Colorado State University), Wesley Gold: Anti-Poaching and Law Enforcement Manager, Nick Bester: Conservation Manager, Katherine Cunliffe: Senior Technical Advisor for Community Outreach, Alina Peter: Operations Room Coordinator, Mugoye Rugatiri: Canine Unit Supervisor and Beezie Burden: Head of Communications
The special project team identifies the cow or bull for the collaring. The SOG (Special Operations Group) will fan out and push the rest of the herd away allowing isolation of the elephant needed. They also keep the herd away while the elephant is darted and worked on.
Everyone stays in the vehicle until the elephant is safely down. The vet will give the signal when you can move forward. He was very careful not to dart a baby elephant, matriarch of the herd or new mother. Dr. Ernest Mjingo is with the government organization Tanzanian Wildlife Research Institute (TAWIRI) and oversaw the entire elephant collaring project.
Do you see that dart with the orange on the end? That little bitty dart took down that large elephant. The vet is meticulous about the exact formula needed to quickly sedate the animal and do the project work efficiently.
Notice that the elephants ear is placed over its eye to protect its vision. The collar is on. Final prep is being done before the shot containing the antidote is administered. It only takes between 30 seconds and 2 minutes for the elephant to be on its feet thereafter.
My job on this elephant was to spray paint “02” on its hindquarters. This makes it easy to identify the elephant from the helicopter ensuring that this herd does not get darted or collared again.
The science team does a blood draw, measures the elephants feet, tusk and checks its vitals. Since the animal is sedated, it’s a good time to also do a quick check-up.
Yep, that’s a metal detector! Villagers use spears to ward off elephants from raiding their crops. And sometimes they cause a deep wound leading to an infection. The spear gets embedded and this is the only way to identify it. The vet can do repair work on the elephant if one is found.
There are several ways to help identify the age of an elephant. One of them is to reach into its mouth and count the molars. Ruth M. doing the work here! Just call her the elephant dentist!
Another successful collaring! Thanks to the incredible Dr. Ernest Mjingo and the science team.
All collared elephants quickly stand up once the antidote is given and rejoin the herd within minutes. This was such a joyful experience to watch over and over again!
To give perspective: We were in the country of Tanzania for this project. Tanzania is about 2 degrees below the equator. There are 54 countries in Africa. Did you know that?
The Grumeti Reserve is on the western corridor of the Serengeti National Park in Tanzania. It is 350,000 acres of protected land without fences.
other projects and more animal pictures
Since you are driving around on the Grumeti Reserve while working on the Elephant Collaring Project, you are basically on a game drive every day. Animals everywhere!
This is an old Cape Buffalo. The more their horns are curled, the older the animal is. You do not want to mess with a Cape Buffalo. They like to attack! Every time I look at one, I think their horns look like a wig.
Ruth M. taught me to take perspective pictures while in the bush. This is the full picture of what we just encountered. A cheetah mom with her young. Always look in the shadows when you are looking for animals. They like to stay cool by hanging out in tree/brush shade.
This is the zoomed in shot of the same Cheetah mom and her young. Magnificent creatures!
This is the pool outside of our room at Faru Faru Lodge on the Grumeti Reserve. Look at the beautiful view!
While swimming I noticed a lot of commotion below the pool. A herd of elephants decided to walk by and head to the watering hole. Beautiful animals in their natural habitat!
Here is another project the Singita Grumeti Fund is working on. This is Eric, a black rhino gifted to the Grumeti Reserve from the San Diego Zoo. You see him here with his handler Mzee Dickson who works for the Singita Grumeti Fund. He is currently protected in his boma (pen) and will soon be meeting a female black rhino in the wild. Read here about the reintroduction of the Eastern Black Rhino program.
Eric loves to get special treats. Can you believe that these beautiful animals are hunted and killed for their horns? And the horn is basically the same thing as fingernails and will regrow. It’s so sad that senseless killings happen and threaten the extinction of this species.
This is the special team assigned to protect Eric and the rhino project!
The Singita Grumeti Fund also focuses on community and education with the Environmental Education Center. Here we got to meet girls from local villages who have come to stay for one week to learn about conservation. They were between 15-17 years old and such a joy! They take what they learn back to their villages and help everyone learn about conservation efforts.
Through funding, the Singita Grumeti Fund has just added 4 dogs to establish their K-9 unit – Tony, DJ, Radar and Popo. We were able to watch a demonstration of how they work with their handlers to track poachers. You should see their facility and kennels. Meticulous! There is second part to this amazing story – the dogs are all rescue dogs that are trained in Montana. In the smallest of small worlds – I was just in Montana and learned of this organization – Working Dogs 4 Conservation. What a win-win for the dogs and everyone involved!
Meet Wes Gold – Law Enforcement and Anti-Poaching Manager (far right). We are standing at his headquarters in a secret location on the Grumeti Reserve. All the wire that you see behind us are snares that have been found and removed from animals by his team. This department has over 100 game scouts, 18 Special Operation Group members, 12 permanent scout control camps that are manned 24/7, a joint intelligence unit and a K-9 unit. They use drones, night vision and a domain awareness system to monitor and protect the Grumeti Reserve. The work is endless but they are committed to protecting this beautiful land and the creatures that a part of the ecosystem.
This is not the best quality picture but I had to include it. Ruth and I were asked over and over again what was our favorite animal that we saw. It’s hard because you see so many beautiful creatures in their natural habitat daily. On this day, a warthog mom and dad came to the watering hole by Faru Faru Lodge with their family of 5 piglets. They all drank and wallowed in the water and it was the cutest thing we saw! Adorable!
Just another day on the Grumeti Reserve. Wildebeest passing by… If you would like to help the conservation effort, click here for more details.
photo: Tanya’s iPhone
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