Research Area Summaries



Approximately 100 000 African elephants have been lost in the last decade.  Numbers continue to decline in the face of poaching, human/elephant conflict and inbreeding. We are creating a DNA database of the South African elephant population to safeguard the future of the species.  Firstly, A DNA database is important for monitoring inbreeding and the predisposition of disease. Secondly, being able to link ivory to specific elephants in specific areas assists authorities in identifying poaching hotspots.  For World Elephant Day we are raising funds for this project. Please go here if you'd like to participate. Lead on this project is Katrina Leser.

Scent Detection


Elephants have been proven to have a sense of smell 14X stronger than that of a dog. They can distinguish between individuals (elephants and humans), detect TNT and explosives, and track a person through the bush.

Current research focuses on tracking, search and rescue, anti-poaching, disease detection, and contraband detection, all in the hopes of making elephants more valuable to the local communities living with them.

During the Angolan war the landscape was scattered with landmines, which along with the human population decimated the animal population during and after the war. Researchers however noticed that elephants started avoiding minefields. Watch this video to learn more about the research that resulted out of this amazing observation.

                                                                                          Elephant Dung Endocrinology

Dung Beetle

Working with elephant dung is the most practical way of collecting information and insights about an animal's endocrine system without disturbing the animal. Faeces can provide information about female and male reproductive status as well as adrenocortical function as a a measure of stress. The Endocrine Research Laboratory in the Faculty of Veterinary Science is working with RHRCU to establish numerous non-invasive tests for a wide range of species. Lead on this project is Professor Andre Ganswindt.

Elephant Welfare

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The well-being of elephants in captivity is just as important as that of those in the wild, especially as more elephant are finding themselves in captive situations as their land space decreases. RHCRU not only conducts research studies on nutrition, health, and behavior of captive animals, but also works with zoos and other facilities to create enrichment and training programs.




                                 Elephant Milk

 AWE is fortunate enough to have two healthy mothers and calves. Both calves are breast feeding well and the babies are growing and developing rapidly.

RHRCU is using this opportunity to assist those who are trying to find a milk formula for orphaned elephants. Milk samples are collected every week and the samples are analyzed at the University of the Free State. Lead on this research is Profession Gary Osthoff.


   Environmental Protection

Elephants are a vital part of the savannah ecosystem and can have a major impact on the landscape of reserves and parks. To better understand how elephants affect their environment, RHCRU supports research aimed at determining factors influencing wild elephants’ feed choices (i.e. plant types, plant heights, season), determining the carrying capacity of land, and determining the effects of different feedstuffs on animal behavior.

Both elephants and dung beetles are important ecosystem engineers. Watch this video to learn more about the research done by Dr Marcus Byrne from Wits University in Johannesburg in association with RHCRU.

                                                                              Human-Elephant Conflict Mitigation

Along with poaching, human-elephant conflict is one of the greatest threats to wild elephants. As the human population increases, elephants are left with less land to roam (only 6% of the whole of Africa is available to elephants), leading to increased contact between them and people. Our research aims to find win-win solutions to reducing conflict between rural communities and wild elephants.  Projects include using SMART Towers and collars, drones, acoustic devices, vocalizations, chilli peppers, contraceptives, and scent corridors to deter elephants from villages, manage their overall population, and increase their land area.

                                                                                                      Community Outreach

While educating all the tourists that come to AWE is vital to world-wide conservation efforts, RHCRU recognizes it is equally important to educate the wider Urban & Rural African community about conservation and their local wildlife. Therefore, RHCRU has partnered with HO-PE ministries and the Joy of Healing to begin a conservation program in the Vingerkraal community, as well as to help with conservation based projects. We also host many rural community schools and charities who bring students out to meet elephants face to face and heart to heart, creating a tangible understanding of how wonderful elephants really are.