DigitalGlobe QuickBird satellite imagery is helping researchers of the Amboseli Elephant Research Project (AERP) to locate elephants in Kenya's Amboseli National Park and surrounding ecosystem.
Armed with the ability to track elephant movements within and outside the park from space, AERP researchers can learn more about the elephants' social interactions and better understand shifts in their use of the Amboseli ecosystem, said Herb Satterlee, CEO of DigitalGlobe.
Geographic Information Systems (GIS) software technology from ESRI (Redlands, Calif.) is helping AERP maintain a 30-year database of information about the Amboseli elephant populations and their habitats.
The 61-centimeter resolution of QuickBird imagery, which has allowed AERP researchers to distinguish the current location and size of individual elephant groups, may provide valuable insight about the evolution of elephant behavior and the complex ways in which the animals respond to changes in their environment. "When the satellite imagery is combined with the family histories and field observations, we may learn even more about the social relationships and movement patterns of the elephants," said Dr. Cynthia Moss, director of the Amboseli National Park and co-founder of the AERP. Moss cited increased human settlement, environmental factors and the behaviors of fellow elephants as examples of influences on elephant grouping patterns.
Moss said the potential of satellite imagery and advanced software techniques to track and observe elephant movements is consistent with the AERP's philosophy of non-invasive research. This is in contrast to the traditional method of fitting elephants with radio collars to track their movements.
"These technologies provide exciting possibilities for helping us find out where the population is going without harming them," said Moss. "It opens up a whole new way of thinking about data. Things pop out at you - patterns we didn't realize were so strong."
Moss and her team of researchers have been collecting spatial data for years. In 1972 when Moss initiated the project on the Amboseli elephant population, Moss used paper maps and hand-written notes and data sheets to collect data and analyze changes to the park's ecosystem. For several years, the data was transferred to computer coding forms and finally to computers, a time-consuming and cumbersome process. Today, digital technologies such as QuickBird satellite imagery and GIS complement Moss' fieldwork and enable her and her team to easily collect, categorize and analyze data.