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About RobC

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  • Location
    South Africa
  • Interests
    Elephant ecology and human-wildlife conflict
  1. "Friday 24 November 2017: Hanging beehives containing African honeybees from the branches of marula trees are highly effective at protecting these trees from elephant impact, a new study has confirmed. Research, conducted by South African based Elephants Alive and the University of the Witwatersrand, Johannesburg, in partnership with the Elephants and Bees Project of Save the Elephants in Kenya, has discovered that African elephants appear to avoid impacting marula trees containing beehives with African honeybees."
  2. @serendipityntravel Yes I did meet Chandima. He was up and down a lot but we got on well. It was my first time leaving South Africa and a great place to see wild elephants and carry out research.
  3. Recent exposure to African elephants after a century of exclusion: Rapid accumulation of marula tree impact and mortality, and poor regeneration R.M. Cook, E.T.F. Witkowski, C.V. Helm, M.D. Henley, F. Parrini Forest Ecology and Management 401 (2017) 107–116 Full paper attached to post Abstract Concerns exist over the continual decline of marula trees (Sclerocarya birrea subsp. caffra), a large ecologically and economically important tree species in southern Africa, primarily as a consequence of impact by African elephants (Loxodonta africana) and poor regeneration. We assessed changes to marula tree population structure in a protected area that was only recently opened to elephants. Jejane Private Nature Reserve (JPNR) has been subjected to elephants from the Greater Kruger National Park (Greater KNP) since 2013, as it was fenced off beforehand. A previous survey of the marula population in JPNR was done in 2009 and again in 2016. Therefore this study aimed to (i) assess elephant-induced impact and mortality levels on the previously surveyed JPNR marula tree population, (ii) compare these levels with previously recorded impact and mortality levels on marula trees across the Greater KNP, and (iii) assess marula seed predation and seedling recruitment in JPNR. The resurveyed marula population had declined by 23.8% post-elephant movement into JPNR, with the highest annual mortality rates (AMR) and elephant impact scores for trees in the 5–8 m height class. The JPNR marula tree AMR of 8.1% was higher than that of Greater KNP (4.6%). Only two marula seedlings were found across all transects, whilst 84.2% of all endocarps’ locules had seeds missing, with bite marks present on 42.3% of all endocarps. This suggests potential high levels of seed predation and a lack of seedling recruitment. The concern over the impact by elephants on adult marula trees is therefore escalated as a consequence of the lack of regeneration, primarily because of seed and seedling predation. Management policies should be focused on protection methods for individual trees, seedlings and seeds, together with a large scale artificial surface water management plan to manipulate herbivore densities and pressures on marula tree populations. Cook et al 2017.pdf
  4. Click on the link below to view my travel blog about my research trip to Sri Lanka:
  5. Thanks @offshorebirder In South Africa we did not have any issues with honey badgers as the hives were quite a way down from the trees' branches, making it difficult to reach. They are also too high off the ground to reach. We actually did some trial experiments first at a closed facility to ensure that honeybadgers could not reach them. In Kenya back in 2009, the fences around the farms needed to be redesigned to ensure that the hives were out of reach for honey badgers. This meant hanging them higher off the ground. We had no mammalian predator issues in Sri Lanka. The lesser banded hornet was probably the biggest predatory issue there.
  6. Human-Elephant Conflict and the use of Honeybees: A South African’s Perspective in Sri Lanka "My Master of Science degree, for example, centred on the use of African honeybees to protect marula trees from elephant impact. This research, through the Elephants Alive research organisation, was certainly relevant to the South African form of HEC. What an eye-opener it would be for me then to take over as project coordinator at the Elephants and Bees Project’s Sri Lankan study site earlier in July 2017."
  7. As an up-and-coming ecologist, I have always had a sense of adventure. My research has given me the privilege of visiting wilderness areas across South Africa, spending large portions of my MSc degree walking through the Greater Kruger National Park, encountering elephants, buffalo and white rhino on foot. Although I would like to think of myself as fairly competent when walking through a wilderness area, this was not always the case. Back in April 2011, as a young first year BSc student, I undertook my first trip on my own, visiting St Lucia in South Africa’s KwaZulu-Natal province. Although the trip itself was incredible, a single event on my final day stole the headlines of my stay. Below is my diary entry from that day.
  8. Recent update on my research in the Greater Kruger National Park: "In South Africa, Protected Areas managers and tourists alike are concerned that our expanding elephant population will negatively affect the number and structure of iconic tree species such as the Marula (Sclerocarya birrea). Elephants Alive were approached by South Africa National Parks (SANParks) in 2012 to discuss methods which could be used to keep elephants out of particular areas where certain landscape features such as tall trees needed to be preserved as part of the biodiversity objectives of SANParks..." Read more here:
  9. Elephant movement patterns in relation to human inhabitants in and around the Great Limpopo Transfrontier Park Robin M. Cook, Michelle D. Henley, Francesca Parrini Full free download of article: Abstract The presence of humans and African elephants (Loxodonta africana) in the Great Limpopo Transfrontier Park can create situations of potential human–elephant conflict. Such conflict will likely be exacerbated as elephant and human populations increase, unless mitigation measures are put in place. In this study we analysed the movement patterns of 13 collared adult African elephants from the northern Kruger National Park over a period of eight years (2006–2014). We compared the occurrence and displacement rates of elephant bulls and cows around villages in the Limpopo National Park and northern border of the Kruger National Park across seasons and at different times of the day. Elephants occurred close to villages more often in the dry season than in the wet season, with bulls occurring more frequently around villages than cows. Both the bulls and the cows preferred to use areas close to villages from early evening to midnight, with the bulls moving closer to villages than the cows. These results suggest that elephants, especially the bulls, are moving through the studied villages in Mozambique and Zimbabwe at night and that these movements are most common during the drier months when resources are known to be scarce. Conservation implications: Elephants from the Kruger National Park are moving in close proximity to villages within the Great Limpopo Transfrontier Park. Resettlement of villages within and around the park should therefore be planned away from elephant seasonal routes to minimise conflict between humans and elephants.
  10. ~ @@RobC This is a TERRIFIC post! Great information, with substantial relevant detail. Many, many thanks for your care and time in preparing this summary report for Safaritalk members and visitors. The research design is elegant. When my classes commence a few weeks later, this project will be mentioned and highlighted as a positive example of wildlife research which benefits the local environment. Thank you for posting this information, and for the delightful photographs! Tom K. Thanks so much Tom! I really appreciate the exposure!
  11. Elephants Alive has been a-buzz with activity as we have literally been as busy as bees. We had a very productive time making beehives for Robin’s MSc! In just two and a half days our inspired team made 79 beehives. Our only hold-up being a hiccup with the delivery of materials. We still have 40 to go but with our new skills, we are unstoppable. But bees and elephants....where is the link? Robin’s project will focus on using bees to deter elephants from impacting iconic Marula trees. His thesis will build on the wonderful work done by our colleague, Dr. Lucy King who used bees to protect crops from raiding elephants. We hope to protect individual Marula trees from elephant impact to ensure the aesthetics of certain landscape features, secure bees for the future, produce honey and in general to foster a peaceful co-existence between elephants and people. We will provide updates as the project develops and as beehives get hung in trees at the experimental site on Jejane Private Nature Reserve. Thank you to all who have sponsored a hive at $50 each. We will post pictures of your labelled hive as we go. Please use our website to donate via PayPal with the words ‘BEES’ if you wish to sponsor a hive ( or alternatively follow this link: We would like to thank our bee expert, Johan Labuschagne for his design and wonderful guidance throughout the workshop. Gionni Gelletich is thanked for providing the ideal venue at Mica Village. Mica’s wonderful staff all lent a hand and we would like to thank Robert, Rector, Reggie, Mathieu and Given. Prince from Nourish was amazing and did everything in his stride and with the biggest smile. Winnie is thanked for helping with the catering. Michellene worked out all the meals. Lucia, our intern worked tirelessly wherever she was needed. BUCO is thanked for providing a good discount on the expensive materials. Woolworths is thanked for their support via their Wild About Elephants - Bags4Good campaign.
  12. ~ @@RobC Thank you so much for sharing this delightful Elephant Field Day report. Your description does so much to capture the spirit of the day. Really like the photograph of the elephants crossing the road. Your passion for your fieldwork comes through in both your commentary and the photographs. It's a privilege for us on Safaritalk to share in your field adventures. Tom K. Thanks so much Tom!

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