To investigate the ecology of the local elephant population to inform decision making on human-elephant conflict issues, and to trial approaches to mitigate such conflict.
In fragmented land-use mosaics the home ranges of African elephants feature a combination of protected and unprotected areas. Ranging in human-dominated landscapes inevitably leads to interaction, and therefore conflict, with communities; most notably with farmers as a result of crop-raiding, but also including destroying water supplies, demolishing grain stores and houses, and injuring and killing people and livestock. Understanding elephants’ use of land, both within and outside of protected areas, is seen as increasingly important to future conservation management of African elephant populations.
Increasing human populations and agricultural expansion within the Livingstone area of Zambia threaten to expand the human / elephant interface, likely leading to greater incidence of Human Elephant Conflict (HEC). Whilst elephant presence within the Mosi-oa-Tunya National Park (MoT NP) is a significant draw for tourism, bringing much needed income to the local economy and funding to the Zambia National Parks & Wildlife Department (ZNPWD) from national park entrance fees, increasing conflict with local communities creates friction between the needs of those communities and the authority charged with managing the elephant population and associated HEC. Common to many locations across Africa, elephants in this area are becoming increasingly bold, which can create a climate of fear and negative perceptions by communities towards ZNPWD in respect of managing elephant populations.
The success of HEC mitigation strategies is dependent on the ecology and behaviour of elephants in an area, as well as the human socio-political and economic environment. Specific research on elephant populations in the region are sparse, and efforts to mitigate the conflict have largely been undertaken without rigorous planning or evaluation. This research aims to provide comprehensive data to ZNPWD to assist in fully understanding the mechanisms behind HEC in this region.
This research, a partnership between ZNPWD, ALERT, Copperbelt University, Coventry University, Western Kentucky University, the Zambia Forestry Department and the local communities, will focus on the following areas:
1. To assess the seasonal distribution and abundance of elephants in the MoT NP and surrounding areas;
2. Provide a long-term (5 years +) overview of the elephant population, including population trends, herd sizes and male to female ratios;
3. To understand the ecology of elephants in the MoT NP and surrounding areas;
4. Identify local movement corridors;
5. Monitor incidences of HEC to evaluate modes and modalities of such conflict;
6. Scientifically assess the effectiveness of a variety of HEC mitigation measures.
2010 - 2012: Monitoring surveys identified 409 individuals that were either resident or transient within the Park.
2013: A lighting system that was originally developed to deter domestic livestock predation by lions after dark by discouraging animals from approaching kraals (fenced animal holding bomas) has also shown success in warding off elephants. The system uses flashing lights to give the impression that someone is patrolling the area with a torch. With a 100% success rate in keeping elephants away from farms in Kenya during a 10 month trial period, this system offers a potentially viable solution to the problems of crop damage and threat to human life caused by elephants. The lights also temporarily disable the animal's visual system, which, when in a dark adapted state, is operating primarily on Rod photoreceptors which don't cope well in light. The animals’ tapetum, which acts to amplify light in low-light conditions, makes this effect more dramatic.Initial trials and experiments using the lighting systems in Livingstone, Zambia proved encouraging. Lighting units were set up in several high conflict areas and at known elephant movement corridors to those conflict areas. Whilst local farms have been raided by elephants at least three or four times during the trial, elephants approached the test plots with the lights, but did not venture closer than 120 metres.
2015: A patch-occupancy survey has been completed in areas outside of a core protected and fenced zone that forms part of Mosi-oa-Tunya National Park, Zambia. The survey aimed to assist proposed future monitoring exercises by defining the geographical extent that should be considered for those efforts to improve accuracy in species abundance estimates. The results of the survey have been submitted to an academic journal for publication:
Patch - Occupancy Survey of Elephant (Loxodonta africana) Surrounding Livingstone, Zambia
David A Youldon1,2, Jackie Abell1,3, Joanne S Briffitt1, Lackson Chama4, Michaela D Channings1, Anastasia Kilundo5, Christine K Larsen1, Dabwiso Sakala1, and Bruce A Schulte6
1 African Lion & Environmental Research Trust (Zambia), Livingstone, Zambia
2 School of Biomedical Sciences, Edinburgh University, Edinburgh, United Kingdom
3 Faculty of Health and Life Sciences, Coventry University, Coventry, United Kingdom
4 Department of Zoology and Aquatic Sciences, Copperbelt University, Kitwe, Zambia
5 Zambia Wildlife Authority, Ministry of Tourism and Arts, Republic of Zambia
6 Department of Biology, Western Kentucky University, Bowling Green, Kentucky, USA