Many methods have been developed for the tracking of herds, families and clans of elephants. Each method is suitable for a certain area or distribution pattern. Also, the choice of one method over another may depend on funding and expertise, as equipment and training may get costly.
Of course, tracking is an age-old practice to assist native bush dwellers and hunters to find animals, using spoor and droppings. Today, tracking elephants allows scientists and conservationists to get a clear idea of numbers (i.e. a census), distribution patterns (where the elephants are travelling to at what time of the year), herd sizes (which may differ because of certain social and environmental issues), the predators most dangerous to the elephants in that particular area, the diet and its adaptations to the local vegetation, breeding patterns (according to the availability of strong, healthy males) and so on. This information assists in the protection of these animals and the accurate control over their numbers and general well-being.
Spoor tracking is still used by wildlife experts, usually with the assistance of a trained tracker. Satellite tracking uses a GPS (Global Positioning System) that communicates from a collar or computer chip on or in the elephant to an orbiting satellite. This gives a very accurate reading of where the elephant is, but is costly in terms of time, energy and trained personnel. Aerial photography is also costly, but gives fantastic evidence of numbers in a herd, family or clan of a specific area. It is also relatively quick as it involves flying over the specified area, taking photographs of different herds and then counting and recording the findings later on. Acoustic tracking is an interesting initiative that develops our understanding of the elephant language (unique to each elephant) and tracks them according to their calls. Radio tracking is similar to GPS in that it communicates between a device on the elephant and the biologists researching that animal. However, as the name would suggest, communication is conducted via a transmitter and antennae, as opposed to a satellite.
All of these methods have been developed and used in different areas and situations for a similar ultimate goal; that of keeping accurate records of these magnificent animals. This has been done in order to ensure their safety and keep track of numbers. It also allows scientists and biologists to take the necessary actions in order to promote the wellbeing of the elephants, whether that is culling, breeding or relocation.