A new GPS-enabled study helps answer not only the questions of where and when African elephants in Gabon move, but also why.

The study provides the first landscape-scale documentation of elephant movements across and between seven national parks in Gabon.

How can you protect an endangered elephant if you don’t know where it is or where it’s likely to go next? That’s the quandary conservationists and wildlife rangers in the Central African nation face in their battle to keep their remaining population of critically endangered forest elephants safe from poachers, who hunt and kill the animals for their ivory, and other threats.

The vast size and dense vegetation of the pachyderms’ range, coupled with many elephants’ idiosyncratic movement patterns, can limit conservationists’ ability to track an animal’s whereabouts and gauge when it is most likely to cross paths with danger.

Analysis of hourly location data collected over two years from 96 forest elephants wearing collars equipped with satellite GPS reveals their movements are driven by a complex interplay of intrinsic factors—primarily the elephant’s sex—and external variables, chiefly rainfall, temperature, seasonality, and proximity to human activity.

Individuality, a common trait among many elephants, also figures in.

Read the full article about protecting elephants from poachers by Tim Lucas at Futurity.