The Amazing Migration of the Elephants of Mali

Beginning November 7, the National Geographic channel is airing a series of great migrations, from monarch butterflies and flying foxes to great white sharks and…elephants!


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The website is rich in details of migration science, behind-the-scenes footage, and other extras. The desert elephants of Mali take a six-month, three-hundred-mile trek, and scientists with the conservation charity Save the Elephants are using satellite technology to learn the mysteries of their movements. From the website:

The desert elephants of Mali are the northernmost elephants in Africa, and among the most imperiled. Mali elephants must migrate to find the sizeable amounts of water and food that they need to survive. But since the 1970s, the Mali elephants’ range has shrunk, probably due to climate change and habitat destruction by livestock. Increasingly, they must share their habitat and its scarce resources with nomadic and pastoral herders and their cattle, goats, sheep, donkey and camels. It is critical for scientists need to learn more about their movements, behavior and role in the ecosystem, so that land use can be planned to accommodate them and ensure their survival.

One time-honored way to learn more about elephants is simply to follow their route and examine their tracks. “In examining what [elephants] do very closely, you can understand why they do it,” Richard Ruggiero, head of African conservation for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, explained to National Geographic Adventure in 2009. “Why are they tarrying here to dig for these grass roots, or why are they looking for this bit of water, or why are they not going there? And that allows you the key insight and the most interesting insight into elephants, and that is, getting inside the elephant’s head. . . . What is the elephant thinking?”

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