A new study that used GPS tracking data to analyze the movement patterns of elephants inside Etosha National Park has proved that the animals’ exceptional memories of their habitats and their resources makes a valuable contribution to their survival in such a challenging environment.

The study was the first of its kind to use statistical analyses of tracking data to investigate fundamental questions of elephant decision-making.

Professor George Wittemyer of Colorado State University said “it is really exciting to engage with the new windows into wildlife behaviour that technology is opening”

The team found that elephants consistently managed to pinpoint the closest water point to their location, beginning purposeful movement towards water across distances up to 50kms.

Lead author Leo Polansky said “we have anecdotes of incredible, singular long-distance migrations of elephants to far-flung waterholes throughout Africa”.

In a landscape as arid as Etosha, direct travel toward water and minimizing travel distance to water is critical to the elephants wellbeing and the amount of energy the expend.

Myths of elephants’ remarkable memories have abounded for centuries, but this is the first study to show the mechanisma whereby this remarkable memory directly contributees to the elephants’ survivial.

Werner Kilian, another of the study’s authors, said that the intricate understanding of the elephants’ spatial context demonstrated in the study was “a testament to the species’ cognitive ability”.