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MISSION
Voluntarily aiding and contributing to scientific achievement resulting in a clearer understanding of the Earth, its history, and its relation to the universe.
NEWS

The Wildlife Conservation Society is partnering with the government of Mozambique, Paul G. Allen, and USAID to conduct a national elephant survey to collect data essential to protecting Mozambique’s highly threatened and diminishing savannah elephant population. The survey is a part of the Great Elephant Census—an effort to count savannah elephant populations across sub-Saharan Africa […]

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The Wildlife Conservation Society is partnering with the government of Mozambique, Paul G. Allen, and USAID to conduct a national elephant survey to collect data essential to protecting Mozambique’s highly threatened and diminishing savannah elephant population.

The survey is a part of the Great Elephant Census—an effort to count savannah elephant populations across sub-Saharan Africa in response to the current escalating wave of poaching sweeping across Africa. The census will provide an essential baseline of data that can be used to inform conservation approaches toward protecting Africa’s savannah elephants.

The Mozambique survey is taking place in October 2014 and results will be available in early 2015. WCS will use three four-seater Cessna aircraft to fly over six protected areas and three other regions. Examiners in the plane will count both live elephants and elephant carcasses to understand the rate of poaching. Other large wildlife such as zebra and buffalo will be counted within the Niassa National Reserve.

“While I am aware that this survey very likely could bring shocking news about elephant numbers in Mozambique, I know that the results are critical to providing the hard data that the Government of Mozambique and conservation partners, including WCS, need to be effective,” said Alastair Nelson, Director of the WCS Mozambique Program. “WCS thanks the Government of Mozambique, Paul G. Allen, and USAID for coming together to make the survey happen.”

The last national elephant count in Mozambique was done six years ago in 2008 and put the total elephant population at 22,000. Within the Niassa National Reserve, which is home to Mozambique’s largest elephant population in the remote far north of the country, more than 4,000 elephants have been killed since 2010. The last count in Niassa was in late 2011, and at that time, an estimated 12,000 elephants were living in the reserve.

There is ample evidence to show that the continent-wide elephant poaching crisis is primarily affecting Mozambique. It is estimated that 100,000 elephants have been killed across Africa in the last three years alone, primarily by organized criminal networks that are also negatively impacting the security, governance, and development potential of local communities and African nations. Niassa Reserve has not been spared—one to two elephants are killed each day at the hands of these criminals, who enter the reserve armed with hunting rifles and AK-47s.

In western Mozambique, poachers are poisoning waterholes to kill elephants, a tactic which also kills all other wildlife. This is the same devastating practice that has been reported from neighboring Zimbabwe.

“We need this survey to count the live elephants and the carcasses,” said Nelson. “This information will help us know the actual population numbers, and where the elephants are getting hammered. Other information, such as the ratios of carcasses to live animals, of males to females, and of adults to juveniles will help us to understand what is happening in each elephant population. This will allow the Mozambican Government, WCS, and other conservation partners, to allocate our scarce resources for maximum impact. This, and other recent action, is the start of turning things around in Mozambique.”

By the end of 2014, the Great Elephant Census will have surveyed elephants in 18 countries, covering more than 80 percent of the savannah elephant range with the aim of counting 90 percent of Africa savannah elephants.

Altogether 50 scientists will complete thousands of aerial transects over 600,000 kilometers. In addition to the Wildlife Conservation Society, many African governments, the IUCN African Elephant Specialist Group, African Parks, Frankfurt Zoological Society, Elephants Without Borders, and Save the Elephants are participating in the survey. Survey teams will also explore how new technologies can improve on current aerial survey methods and allow for enhanced data gathering.

NEWS

Through the School of Aquatic and Fishery Sciences, Sarah Schooler, ’15, spent six weeks in the Alaskan bush, collecting the same data in the field she’d been studying in the classroom: salmon and the hungry habits of grizzly bears. “Male, brain, body.” “Female, belly.” Seven days a week, Sarah Schooler, ’15, suits up in chest-high […]

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Through the School of Aquatic and Fishery Sciences, Sarah Schooler, ’15, spent six weeks in the Alaskan bush, collecting the same data in the field she’d been studying in the classroom: salmon and the hungry habits of grizzly bears.

“Male, brain, body.”

“Female, belly.”

Seven days a week, Sarah Schooler, ’15, suits up in chest-high waders, grabs her bear spray, hops a boat, and walks the length of Lake Aleknagik’s Hansen Creek, counting and categorizing every dead sockeye salmon she happens upon, calling out the sex followed by the parts of the body that were consumed.

Brain, body, belly, hump.

Some salmon are floating lifelessly downstream, carried away from the hordes pushing the opposite direction — upstream — to spawn. Others have washed ashore the gravel banks, while countless others have been littered across “bear kitchens” — flat spots among the tall grass where the sheer size (and constant presence) of a grizzly has matted down the earth.

“Male, bite.”

Another student quickly scribbles the data, while Schooler hooks what’s left of the salmon with a gaff and chucks it to the side of the stream, essentially wiping the carnage clean so she can collect a new set of data the next day. At random, Sarah tags the jaws of the dead to see if bears return to snack on the parts of the fish they passed on before — maybe they took a bite of the belly then left the rest — noting the GPS coordinates.

On an “easy” day, walking the mile-and-a-half-long stream takes maybe an hour and a half. On a heavy kill day? The process of working through hundreds of fish takes more like seven or eight hours.

And that’s life for a student, like Schooler, spending a summer collecting data in the greater Bristol Bay watershed through the School of Aquatic and Fishery Sciences’ Alaska Salmon Program — the world’s longest-running effort to monitor salmon and their ecosystems.

Learn more about Sarah Schooler’s project and see the results of her research at the University of Washington website.