Hoping to Help
Gonçalves and her team came upon a mother and her injured calf one day. The calf was limping. Its leg had been caught in a snare. The wound was very serious. The baby needed treatment, or it would not survive. Gonçalves called a vet who flew in by helicopter.
Unfortunately, the mother saw people as threats. As her tension grew, she tore trees from the ground. Then she wildly thrashed a large stick.
The team could see the baby, hidden in the brush. They stayed in place for hours. They hoped that the mother would let them approach. Instead, she bolted into the brush with her baby.
Four days later, the mother was spotted. She was alone. Gonçalves knew the baby had not survived. She was struck by how fiercely the mother had fought to protect her. It was much like a human mother.
The matriarch leads, but everyone in the herd looks out for one another.
A matriarch might lead her family to the forest in the morning or lead them to water in the afternoon.
Room to Roam
Today, there are more than 650 elephants living in Gorongosa. They once had free range of the park. Now, this smaller population stays in the southern part only. As the herds grow, Gonçalves wonders which areas they will choose to live in.
Elephants need room to roam. A matriarch might lead her herd 10 kilometers (6.2 miles) a day. As they search for food and water, she might take them through a village to snack on crops while the villagers sleep!
As fearful as the elephants are of people, people fear the elephants, too. And no one wants an unpredictable elephant destroying their crops!
Gonçalves’s goal is for people and elephants to peacefully coexist. Avoiding conflicts is important! So, a key part of her job is to keep track of where the elephants travel. She must collar and track their movements.
Collaring an elephant is as hard as it sounds. First, you have to find an elephant. The search often happens by helicopter. When the right elephant is found, a team goes into action.
Gonçalves searches for elephants by helicopter.
Getting a Signal
The team fires a tranquilizer dart. This makes the elephant sleepy. Once it’s asleep, the team can land. “The events happen quickly,” Gonçalves says. “Everyone has a role.”
Some members of the team take measurements and samples of the elephant. Others help fit the collar around the elephant’s neck. Then they wait for the elephant to wake up and get back on her feet.
The team will receive data from the collar every hour, for as long as two years. With 10 elephants collared, the team monitors everywhere they go.
Gonçalves and the team take samples from a matriarch while they collar her.