Amarula Elephant Research Programme

The Amarula Elephant Research Programme (AERP), incepted in July 2002 under the direction of Professor Rob Slotow of the Kwa-Zulu-Natal University, conducts research and tracking of elephant movement rates and ranging behaviour.

A majestic giant of the bush and lover of Marula fruit, the African elephant is also an important icon of our brand Amarula Cream and we are proud to be associated with any initiative that conserves, protects and manages this special creature and its environment.

To date we have contributed a substantive amount towards the elephant research every year, including an additional donation of R250 000 to ensure that the collars can be replaced and that the programme continues to provide long term data.

Building on the University’s long tradition of conservation research and research into elephant management, the programme was established by Amarula to contribute strategically to the foundation of management decision-making for elephant conservation.

Research comprises the key element to sound decision-making. Expert opinion, such as that within the AERP, offers the best framework for making the difficult and important decisions that reserve managers are faced with regarding wildlife management and environmental preservation.

To better understand their ranging behaviour, the AERP collars elephants it studies, using GPS devices that automatically record the location of each animal every 30 minutes. “This gives us an amazingly high resolution and accuracy of movements of elephants in real time. Using indices such as rate of movement, or even the frequency and angle of turning behaviour, we can discover how they are responding to local conditions,” says Slotow.

One of the programme’s most exciting research projects has involved observing the response of elephants to recordings of lions roaring, he says. The study showed that young matriarchs under 40 years old responded more or less the same to the sound of male and female roars and also to recordings of one or more lion roaring at a time. Less discriminating than their elders, they typically under-reacted to male roars, despite the danger that they presented. Older, more experienced matriarchs of up to 60 years old, however, were more nuanced in their responses, reacting most strongly to the sound of multiple male roars. This is because they would not discern a single male or females to be particularly threatening but would find a group of male lions to represent far graver danger.

The programme has also been researching elephant response to seasonal changes and has observed that when the rains come, the collard females travel further and faster, whereas during the dry season, they are constrained by limited forage with the distances they cover being shorter and less variable.

Another study determined that elephants tend to turn more often in favourable habitat where there is a greater abundance of food and shade, than in a less hospitable environment. When they need to reach a destination quickly for water or to access mates, they also move faster and more directly, with fewer turns.

Thanks to the financial support of Amarula, the large number of students who have joined the programme has facilitated a varied and integrated approach to the similar problems across reserves. Combining insight from different studies, students can generate generalised conclusions applicable to any situation, which is very valuable both to owners who are considering introduction of elephants, as well as those planning management interventions.

We have recently renewed this contract for a further 3 years.

Day Care Centre and Clinic

The heart of the Marula growing region is Phalaborwa, which lies at the extreme north eastern reaches of South Africa in the Limpopo province. The livelihood of local residents is closely tied to the Marula tree and it is estimated that close to 60,000 people are supported through the harvesting of the Marula fruit alone for Amarula Cream.

Through a consultative process with tribal chiefs in the area, Amarula has helped to introduce a range of sustainable economic development programmes to ensure that the locals have alternative incomes for the remainder of the year. Working with MIRMA, the Section 21 company made up of tribal chiefs in the area, the Kheyi Early Childhood Development Centre and clinic have been built to support the local community. Currently, approximately 90 children attend the Early Childhood Development Centre. More recently, the Trust will also be fencing a crèche in Matlala.

The extraction of the Marula nuts, which are now being used for the production of health and other Marula based products, is also assisting the local inhabitants to create sustainable incomes.

In the Amarula Trust’s continued support in the area, a Christmas party is held annually for the children who attend the Kheyi early childhood development centre.

The Trust has erected 2,1 m high fencing at two community crèches in the north-western part of Limpopo Province, at Sadu and Mons, about 12 km apart, jointly caring for close to 100 children.

The fencing isn't only to protect the children but also to keep animals away from the vegetable gardens established at both child-care facilities. The harvested veggies are a critical source of their nutrition and helping to tend the gardens teaches them elementary lessons about plants, taking responsibility and healthy eating.

The Amarula Trust has also dropped boreholes in various communities in the area to provide water relief.

Sustaining communities and conscious conservation near Mauritius

While most of the work of the Trust in promoting job creation and encouraging conservation, takes place in South Africa, we are now also active on the tiny but beautiful Rodrigues Island that forms part of the Republic of Mauritius in the Indian Ocean.

In an exciting new job-creating key ring project, we are supporting the Mauritian Wildlife Foundation (MWF), with 15 rupees from the sale of every bottle of Amarula in Mauritius, going to this very effective NGO.

Around 20 women from Rodrigues Island have been commissioned to embroider key ring holders, depicting four endangered birds under the protection of the MWF: the Mauritian Fody, Mauritian Kestrel, Mauritian Olive White-Eye and the Echo Parakeet, as well as the Ornate Day Gecko.

The crafting of the key rings is supervised by a local jeweler. Not only are they highly collectable but they are an important way of focusing on the valuable work of the MWF, and as importantly, they provide much-needed income for the women to support themselves and their families.

Established 30 years ago to save the country's critically threatened birds, reptiles and plants from extinction, the MWF is showing how conservation can steadily build up populations of important indigenous wildlife that might otherwise have disappeared.

The Amarula Scholarship Programme

The Amarula Field Guide Scholarship Programme, sponsored by the Trust, is an intensive one-month course that promotes field-guide training in southern Africa and is intended to advance eco-sustainability and provide employment skills. The Amarula Field Guide Scholarship looks at sponsoring people to attend the South African Wildlife College in Hoedspruit for a month long course which enables them to complete their Level 1 Field Guide Association of South Africa (FGASA) certification.

Started in Botswana four years ago, the initiative has since been extended to South Africa and Namibia. Candidates are selected from eco-lodges, as well as from local communities. When employed graduates return to their places of work and are appointed as field guides, they open up new job opportunities for those who fill their vacancies.

A new group of young Namibians has completed a field guide course that prepares them for jobs in eco-tourism. The eight graduates earned their Level 1 Field Guide certification at Erindi Private Game Reserve and Wilderness Safari’s Damaraland Adventure Camp in October.

The latest Namibian intake is the second to complete the course in the country, presented by Eco Training and accredited by the Field Guide Association of South Africa (FGASA).

Through completing 17 modules over a period of 4 weeks, the students will be able to identify the major living and non-living features of the natural environment in which they operate and interpret them at a level based mainly on observation and from an elementary scientific and cultural perspective.

The course material will also incorporate a 1 hour module specifically dedicated to the Marula tree, its cultural beliefs and the economic impact of this tree.

On successfully completing the course, the graduates will be integrated back into their respective working environments with a view to operating as qualified field guides at their individual establishments. This in turn will make way for their previous posts to be filled, thus encouraging and developing local employment.

WCS Run for Wild

The world’s most comprehensive conservation organization, with 115+ years of global conservation work combined with the management of New York City’s leading zoos and aquarium. The Run for Wild is the Flagship event for the WCS and Metro NY. There are roughly 5400 runners and walkers, majority aged between 25 and 44 who live in New York city.

Kenyan Wildlife Services

Through a partnership with the Kenyan Wildlife Services, the Trust has rehabilitated the Nakuru National Park by putting up street lights outside the park, as well as revamping picnic the picnic sites at the park and putting up directional signs within the park.

In association with Kenya Airways, the Trust also supported the Masai Mara marathon. This is an annual charity event which raises funds for the Lemek Conservancy community to address deficiencies in educational facilities, access to medical aid, improvement of sanitation utlities and provision of clean drinking water to its residents.

Other Initiatives

We support the Centre for African Conservation Ecology at the Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University for its valuable contribution to address conservation challenges amongst elephants in the Addo Elephant National Park and have to date offered financial assistance to the value of R55 000.

Follow this link to the Centre for African Conservation Ecology (ACE) Website.

The Amarula Trust also supports the Southern African Wildlife College, a joint initiative of WWF-SA and the Peace Parks Foundation (PPF). This training point for game rangers throughout the Southern African Development Community region is located in the Kruger National Park. Involvement includes the protection of habitats, conservation of species and natural resources. We sponsor the prizes for the top certificate and diploma courses for students every year, many of whom go onto middle and senior management conservation positions within leading game parks on the African continent.

Follow this link to the Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University Website.

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Amarula Trust

By Kali Widd

The Amarula Trust is a non-profit organization set up to sustainably support our marula fruit har...

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