SEGH Articles

Zoo Elephants Aid Wild counterparts in the Kruger National Park

04 November 2016
Eight zoo elephants from Knowsley Safari Park and Twycross Zoo have been contributing to work that is being carried out to reduce Human-Elephant Conflict surrounding the Kruger National Park.

Eight zoo elephants from Knowsley Safari Park and Twycross Zoo have been contributing to work that is being carried out to reduce Human-Elephant Conflict surrounding the Kruger National Park. This unique, interdisciplinary project involves environmental geochemistry, plant science, and animal health between a range of partners including BGS and the University of Nottingham (UoN) through the joint Centre for Environmental Geochemistry (http://britgeopeople.blogspot.co.uk/2016/05/are-land-use-decisions-by-african.html).

The working hypothesis is that the elephants in this study group originally from the Kruger National Park are deficient in phosphorus, owing to a deficiency in the (soil and) forage. This drives the elephants to supplement their phosphorus from the water, soil and forage on land surrounding a phosphate mine in close proximity to the National Park. En-route to the phosphorus mine, elephant incursion into nearby human settlements has resulted in human-elephant conflict, causing risk of injury and lost income. The results of the project may help to inform  key locations in the elephants’ home range where mineral-supplemented forage or mineral licks may be placed to reduce the drive to seek additional sources of phosphorus, thereby reducing human-elephant conflict. Samples (hair, toenail, blood and urine) from the UK elephants will be used to validate their possible use as biomarkers of mineral status in the wild: This is a brilliant example of the contribution captive animals can make to directly benefit research on their wild counterparts.

 

 

Five UK zoos have kindly agreed to assist with and contribute samples to this research with each zoo being visited four times throughout the year to collect necessary samples from the elephants and from items which the elephants consume from their environments in the zoos. Biological samples required include toenails, faecal samples, serum and tail hair. Environmental samples include all food items (browse, hay, grass, pellets and fruit and vegetables) consumed and soil and water samples to assess the influence of geochemistry on dietary intake and land use decisions. These will be analysed for “essential mineral” content (e.g. zinc, iron) to estimate dietary intake and possible seasonal changes in browse, grass and hay over the year. These data will be related to mineral measurements in the elephants’ biological samples to validate methodologies for use and comparison to wild elephants. 

In June, the second set of UK sample collection took place at Knowsley Safari Park, having commenced a first seasonal cycle in April at that facility. It was especially exciting to collect a longitudinal toenail sample from one individual that will be analysed by spatial analysis using techniques such as laser ablation coupled to ICP-MS or ion beam analysis to give an indication of mineral status over time in that elephant. We would like to thank all the elephant team at Knowsley Safari Park for their assistance with procuring samples and enthusiasm for the research and of course the elephants for their ongoing cooperation. We then moved on to Twycross Zoo for the first very successful sample collection at this facility. We would like to thank all of the elephant team at Twycross Zoo, especially Team Leader Andy Durham, and the veterinary team for their assistance.

Funding

Thanks to the NERC Envision Doctoral Training Programme, the Hermes Trust and Royal Society International Exchange scheme. The project is based on a Centre for Environmental Geochemistry collaboration between the Inorganic Geochemistry (Dr Michael Watts) and Stable Isotopes teams (Professor Melanie Leng) at BGS and Schools of Veterinary (Dr Lisa Yon) and Biosciences (Professor Martin Broadley & Professor Simon Langley-Evans) at the University of Nottingham. The collaboration is further strengthened by partners in five UK zoos and with partners in South Africa who have been studying elephant populations there for the past two decades, tracking elephant movements using GPS and GMS to better understand their habitat use.  In addition, Dr Ellen Dierenfeld (E.S.Dierenfeld Nutrition Consulting, LLC) is an internationally renowned expert on elephant nutrition and a co-investigator on this project.

I am very excited having started my PhD full time in October, having contributed to activities over the summer months in advance. I left my previous employment at the Zoological Society of London (ZSL), where I was Nutrition and Research Officer at London and Whipsnade Zoos for the past 4 years. My role included maintaining accurate diet records for all the animals within the collection, reviewing animal diets based on clinical need, working with procurement to source the myriad of food items needed to feed a zoo and working with keepers to implement diet changes. I continue to be a Research Advisor for the BIAZA Elephant Focus Group and aid the EAZA Elephant TAG Chair with the strategic planning of the TAG giving input into the direction of the group. This experience has put me in touch with the global captive elephant community and given me an understanding as to the work zoos can do to benefit wild counterparts. I look forward to starting this new challenge, collaborating with several UK zoos to directly advance field research and to employ a multi-disciplinary approach to the PhD research question – “Are land-use decisions made by elephants influenced by geochemistry?”

by Fiona Sach, PhD Student, NERC Envision DTP, BGS & University of Nottingham

More information will follow at:
http://www.environmentalgeochemistry.org/research/BiochemicalCycling.html 
https://www.knowsleysafariexperience.co.uk/ 
@KnowsleySafari, facebook.com/knowsleysafari 

 

Keep up to date

Submit Content

Members can keep in touch with their colleagues through short news and events articles of interest to the SEGH community.

Science in the News

Latest on-line papers from the SEGH journal: Environmental Geochemistry and Health

  • Agro-ecological suitability assessment of Chinese Medicinal Yam under future climate change 2019-10-15

    Abstract

    Chinese Medicinal Yam (CMY) has been prescribed as medicinal food for thousand years in China by Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) practitioners. Its medical benefits include nourishing the stomach and spleen to improve digestion, replenishing lung and kidney, etc., according to the TCM literature. As living standard rises and public health awareness improves in recent years, the potential medicinal benefits of CMY have attracted increasing attention in China. It has been found that the observed climate change in last several decades, together with the change in economic structure, has driven significant shift in the pattern of the traditional CMY planting areas. To identify suitable planting area for CMY in the near future is critical for ensuring the quality and supply quantity of CMY, guiding the layout of CMY industry, and safeguarding the sustainable development of CMY resources for public health. In this study, we first collect 30-year records of CMY varieties and their corresponding phenology and agro-meteorological observations. We then consolidate these data and use them to enrich and update the eco-physiological parameters of CMY in the agro-ecological zone (AEZ) model. The updated CMY varieties and AEZ model are validated using the historical planting area and production under observed climate conditions. After the successful validation, we use the updated AEZ model to simulate the potential yield of CMY and identify the suitable planting regions under future climate projections in China. This study shows that regions with high ecological similarity to the genuine and core producing areas of CMY mainly distribute in eastern Henan, southeastern Hebei, and western Shandong. The climate suitability of these areas will be improved due to global warming in the next 50 years, and therefore, they will continue to be the most suitable CMY planting regions.

  • Application of stable isotopes and dissolved ions for monitoring landfill leachate contamination 2019-10-15

    Abstract

    We evaluated groundwater contamination by landfill leachate at a municipal landfill and characterized isotopic and hydrogeochemical evidence of the degradation and natural attenuation of buried organic matter at the study site. Dissolved ion content was generally much higher in the leachate than in the surrounding groundwater. The leachate was characterized by highly elevated bicarbonate and ammonium levels and a lack of nitrate and sulfate, indicating generation under anoxic conditions. Leachate δD and δ13CDIC values were much higher than those of the surrounding groundwater; some groundwater samples near the landfill showed a significant contamination by the leachate plume. Hydrochemical characteristics of the groundwater suggest that aquifer geology in the study area plays a key role in controlling the natural attenuation of leachate plumes in this oxygen-limited environment.

  • Lead transfer into the vegetation layer growing naturally in a Pb-contaminated site 2019-10-10

    Abstract

    The lead was one of the main elements in the glazes used to colour ceramic tiles. Due to its presence, ceramic sludge has been a source of environmental pollution since this dangerous waste has been often spread into the soil without any measures of pollution control. These contaminated sites are often located close to industrial sites in the peri-urban areas, thus representing a considerable hazard to the human and ecosystem health. In this study, we investigated the lead transfer into the vegetation layer (Phragmites australis, Salix alba and Sambucus nigra) growing naturally along a Pb-contaminated ditch bank. The analysis showed a different lead accumulation among the species and their plant tissues. Salix trees were not affected by the Pb contamination, possibly because their roots mainly develop below the contaminated deposit. Differently, Sambucus accumulated high concentrations of lead in all plant tissues and fruits, representing a potential source of biomagnification. Phragmites accumulated large amounts of lead in the rhizomes and, considering its homogeneous distribution on the site, was used to map the contamination. Analysing the Pb concentration within plant tissues, we got at the same time information about the spread, the history of the contamination and the relative risks. Finally, we discussed the role of natural recolonizing plants for the soil pollution mitigation and their capacity on decreasing soil erosion and water run-off.