Based in Botswana, the latest initiative focuses on ways to manage the competition for scarce resources between elephants and people in Botswana and neighbouring countries.
The Amarula Trust has made African elephants a major thrust of its conservation efforts because they have such a close association with marula fruit, the source of both Amarula Cream and Amarula Gold.
Adèle Ankiewicz, international spokesperson for the not-for-profit Amarula Trust says: "Elephants absolutely love the marula fruit that grows wild in sub-Saharan Africa. Luckily the fruit is plentiful, with each female tree producing a crop of between 500 kgs and 2 tons, so there is more than enough to share. The trees are also protected, which means they can't be cut down, ensuring a sustainable supply."
The project being funded by the Amarula Trust involves collaring elephants in the eastern Okavango Panhandle, part of the delta, in Botswana, to better understand their movements, herd dynamics and feeding patterns. It is being run by an NGO called Ecoexist.
Ankiewicz said: "Botswana has the biggest free-roaming elephant population in Africa. Fewer than one-fifth of the approximately 200,000 elephants are in protected areas. They are a very important wildlife resource and make a major contribution to the country's tourist industry, so it is essential that strategies are developed to encourage elephants and people to live in harmony.
She says the goal of the project, which is running over five-years, is to fill knowledge gaps.
"The team wants to find out what is prompting the elephant migrations. Is it purely to seek food and water, and if so, why are they choosing some areas above others? Are social dynamics in the male hierarchy forcing less dominant bulls into areas where resources are limited? Do elephant movement patterns change in human-dominated landscapes? How are communities in the Kalahari responding when the elephants enter the area, especially when they raid crops? Answers will help in creating both immediate and longer-term solutions."
Ecoexist, which is partnering with Texas A&M University in the US, is monitoring elephant populations across three different areas within the Okavango Panhandle and working with 13 villages in the area. Its team of researchers includes a conservation biologist, an ecologist and an anthropologist, as well as post-graduate students and interns from Botswana's department of Wildlife and National Parks.
She says the plan is to collar 20 elephants over two years, with the Amarula Trust funding the collaring. So far, eight elephants, all male, have been collared.
The Amarula Trust also funds the Amarula Elephant Research Programme based at the University of KwaZulu-Natal, which has already spent 12 years studying elephant behaviour as the basis for developing conservation strategies in public and private game parks in southern Africa. Its work is internationally renowned.
The Amarula Trust sustains communities and promotes conservation. Its social sustainability initiatives include job creation for rural women, funding an early learning facility, providing potable water, running feeding projects and erecting fencing. In promoting conservation it funds research into elephant behaviour and the training of field guides in Botswana, Namibia and South Africa.