It had appeared to our research team in Livingstone that the area’s elephants had abandoned the Mosi-oa-Tunya National Park at the first signs of a storm. Driving around the Park, numbers of elephants had dropped significantly, and only the occasional individual or small group was being encountered feeding on the fresh growth.
However, we have since discovered that our initial impression was far from the truth. Yes, the number of elephants in the Park during the day has sharply declined since the first rains of the wet season arrived, but if you are able to stay out a little later the reality becomes apparent. At one fairly short stretch of the Zambezi River, away from roads and lodges, herds of 90 or more elephants are crossing over from Zimbabwe in the late afternoon.
As day turns to night, they cross the tar road that leads from Livingstone towards the Botswana border. Then, as darkness takes hold, they exit the National Park through a break in the fence they have created, and enter the Dambwa Forest to the north; a popular feeding area.
At what time they make their return journey we do not yet know, but they are all gone by morning light.
This finding may help to explain why previous aerial surveys produced a population estimate for the Park of only 31 individuals, whilst our research to date suggests that the population utilising the Park is between three and five times more than this in any given month. As the wet season progresses we will try to understand the ever-changing behaviour in response to climate of this elephant population.
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About the Elephant Programme
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. 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). 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 collect comprehensive data to assist in fully understanding the mechanisms behind HEC in this region.
This program, a partnership between the Zambia Department of National Parks and Wildlife, ALERT, Copperbelt, Western Kentucky and Coventry Universities, the Zambia Forestry Department and local communities, focuses on the following:
• Assessing seasonal distribution and abundance of elephants in different habitat types to establish key resource areas and movement corridors.
• Determining elephant population structure within these areas including population trends, herd sizes and male/female ratios
• Determining behavioural ecology of elephants
• Documenting human-elephant conflict amongst local communities.
• Assessing efficacy of different conflict mitigation strategies.