Elephant Census Tracking

Census tracking involves the physical finding and counting of individual elephants, herds, families and clans. This method is effective in smaller, defined areas. A census is a controlled system of acquiring information of a certain population within a certain area. By nature, a census needs to be conducted on a regular basis in order to keep track of population numbers, mortality rates and threats to the species. The difference between a census and sampling is that a census involves the entire population, and not just a smaller group chosen to represent this population.

Game surveys are usually conducted using the sampling method. A smaller area is surveyed, the animals counted and this number multiplied proportionally according to the actual amount of land being surveyed. However, a census is more time consuming and requires trained assessors, who are familiar with herd structures and movements, so that they are able to avoid doubling up on elephants as they move around the area.

A census needs to be very specific in order to ensure that demographics are as accurate as possible. For this reason, age groups will be established and accounted for accordingly, as will gender. By keeping track of the youngest and oldest in the area, scientists and researchers are able to get a clear idea of reason behind premature deaths, growth spurts or slumps in breeding. This, in turn, assists them to make decisions regarding the future care and maintenance of the wildlife being assessed. For example, if it becomes clear that a lack of predators in a certain area is leading to an overpopulation of juvenile elephants with insufficient numbers of responsible adults to take care of them, culling or relocation may become necessary.

When conducting a census, the counters will usually go out in groups of 2 or 3, so that numbers are confirmed. This count may then be supported by further tracking initiatives, such as tagging. The counters should be familiar with the resident herds in the area, so that the count is as efficient as possible because, as with any wild animal, elephants are cautious of human beings invading their habitat. Because it is best to maintain a safe distance, a census should be conducted during a season with high visibility. Taking photographs of each herd and recording the animals as well as the herd are also advisable steps. All of these factors combine to form a solid, reliable piece of research.