Smithsonian Global

Using Satellite Technology to Track and Conserve Asian Elephants in Myanmar

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Endangered Asian elephant standing in Myanmar grassland

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Smithsonian scientists integrate extensive field research, GIS technology and GPS satellite tracking devices, to follow and study wild elephants. These studies increase our understanding of elephant ecology and allow Smithsonian scientists to develop new and innovative ways for conserving wild Asian elephants. The Conservation GIS Lab at the Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute (SCBI) in Front Royal, Virginia, is one of the world's leading facilities for satellite tracking of wildlife and for mapping remaining populations and their habitats. 

Asian elephants typically dwell in forests, making it challenging to observe them in the wild. As a result, it can be difficult to get accurate population estimates, to observe behaviors and movements, and to obtain other data important for developing effective conservation strategies. Satellite technology is one promising method that can help. Satellite collars with Global Positioning Systems (GPS) allow researchers to pinpoint precise elephant locations several times a day. These readings show patterns in seasonal movements, home range and habitat use.

With this information, scientists can better understand ecological requirements of elephants, assess threats in the landscape, and work with wildlife managers to develop strategies for mitigating impacts to elephants.

People

Peter Leimgruber  

Peter Leimgruber is a landscape ecologist and conservation biologist studying biodiversity conservation of extinction-prone species including Asian elephant, Mongolian gazelle, Przewalski’s horse, tiger, and giant panda.

Melissa Songer (Mel)  

Melissa Songer is a conservation biologist researching ways to help sustain and restore species in the wild.     

Christie Sampson  

Christie Sampson is a former fellow with the GIS lab at SCBI where she continues her research focused on understanding and mitigating human-elephant conflict in Myanmar.