Aim and objectives
The overall objective of this study is to create a DNA database of the South African elephant population to assist with elephant management practices in reserves, as well as to offer a deterrent/decrease the value of illegally obtained elephant ivory, which will link back to a specific population and thus identify origins. In addition to collecting individual information (physical features, history, location, and genetic information), the inbreeding coefficient, relatedness, and innate immunity of each herd will be calculated. This data will provide valuable indication of the extent to which populations on the small reserves throughout South Africa are inbred, and how many are related to the Kruger Park elephants as well as elephants in other countries. Since inbreeding can weaken disease resistance of mammals, the innate immunity of elephants sampled will be calculated to find the extent of influence, if any, that the segregation of the elephant population onto small reserves has had on their immune systems. Linking confiscated ivory to elephants in the database will further provide insight into the hot-spots and the rate of poaching in South Africa.
For the creation of the database, biological samples from African Elephants of both sexes and all ages on private and public reserves and in captive facilities in South Africa will be collected. The aim is to collect samples from roughly 80% of the 56 small parks and reserves in South Africa. Due to the size of some parts such as the Kruger population, bulls and matriarchs will be targeted for sample collection.
Identifying characteristics, including ear traits, tusk length, and tail traits will be photographed and noted on a data sheet. Skin biopsy samples (~200mg) will be collected by a veterinarian using a biopsy dart in the presence of a conservation officer. Samples will be placed in 80% ethanol for transport to the laboratory. Any captive animals or those already tranquilized for transport will also receive blood draws, saliva swabs, and hair draws, performed by the veterinarian (blood). All samples will be collected following chain of custody protocol approved by the Scientific Authority.
Darts made specifically for the project will collect a biopsy sample and mark the elephant so that it is not sampled twice. The dye will further contain an anti-biotic to prevent infection