Written by: Kimberly White 

Elephants in Nigeria are getting a technological boost in protection. The Wildlife Conservation Society Nigeria has fitted six elephants with GPS/satellite collars in Nigeria’s Yankari Game Reserve. The collars provide real-time tracking of elephants, enabling WCS Nigeria, the Bauchi State Government, and park rangers to better monitor and protect Nigeria’s largest remaining elephant herd. 

“Real-time monitoring of elephant populations is essential for their protection by providing location data which is used to optimize deployment of anti-poaching and other wildlife protection interventions and also to help improve efforts to reduce elephant – human conflict with neighboring communities,” said Dr. Paul Elkan, Regional Director of WCS’s Sudano-Sahel Program.

Yankari rangers on patrol.
Credit: Natalie Ingle, WCS

For the global elephant population, poaching rates have continued to exceed the elephant population growth rate. Elephant numbers overall will continue to decline unless there is accelerated action from governments.

The Yankari Game Reserve is home to approximately 100 savanna elephants and one of only two lion populations left in the country. From 2006-2015, the Yankari Game Reserve was under siege by poachers. During that time, the Yankari’s elephant population faced a sharp decline, losing between 20 to 30 elephants each year. 

Through concerted law enforcement efforts and community engagement programs, the Yankari Game Reserve has successfully reduced poaching levels. The reserve has had no documented elephant kills since May 2015 and has had zero poaching incidences detected over the past four years. 

The new satellite collars enable park rangers to provide the maximum level of protection possible. 

Dr. Richard Harvey fitting a satellite/GPS collar to one of the Yankari elephants. Credit: Nacha Geoffrey

“The use of satellite collars has also allowed us to react more quickly whenever elephants stray outside the reserve, and has helped reduce levels of crop damage and human-elephant conflict. We manage the information on elephant locations with strict confidentiality to ensure their safety at all times,” said Nachamada Geoffrey, WCS Landscape Director in Yankari Game Reserve.

The Yankari’s success has become a beacon of hope for elephant conservation in Nigeria. Outside of the Yankari Game Reserve, elephants have been extensively hunted for their ivory tusks. According to WCS, Nigeria is home to a flourishing domestic ivory trade. Though the Nigerian government strictly prohibits the export of ivory, the country has become a hub for ivory moving through other African regions to China and Vietnam. The ivory trade has been a prominent threat to African elephants; one is killed every fifteen minutes.

“We are proud to support WCS’s work in Yankari Game Reserve and the progress in securing this critical population is of regional conservation significance,” said Dr. Chris Thouless, Director of the Elephant Crisis Fund and Strategic Advisor to Save the Elephants. “That said, we strongly urge the Government of Nigeria to close down the domestic trade in ivory as soon as possible and to ensure that trafficking of ivory through Nigeria from neighboring countries is completely halted.”

Header Image Credit: Musa Ahmadu, WCS Nigeria