Finding pathways to human-elephant coexistence: A risky business
Songhurst A., McCulloch G., Coulson T.
© Fauna & Flora International 2015. Finding ways for people and wildlife to coexist requires affording both parties access to critical resources and space, but also a behavioural change by both to avoid conflict. We investigated pathway use in a population of free-ranging African elephants Loxodonta africana in the Okavango Panhandle, Botswana that share their range with humans in a multi-use, heterogeneous landscape. We used detailed ground surveys to identify and map elephant movement pathways, and mixed-effect models to explore factors influencing elephant numbers and movement behaviour on and around these pathways. We found deviation in pathway use among the elephant population, suggesting behavioural adaptations to avoid human-associated risk: avoiding pathways near settlements, particularly near larger settlements; avoiding pathways close to cultivated land; and adopting a safety-in-numbers strategy when moving through areas of human use. Our findings suggest there is opportunity to capitalize on risk avoidance by elephant populations, to minimize resource-use overlap and reduce conflict between humans and elephants. We discuss a strategy that involves ensuring appropriate protection of elephant pathways in land-use planning, using development-free buffer zones, combined with mitigation techniques along the interface with agricultural lands to increase risk levels and reinforce human-elephant interface boundaries. We recommend further examination of the use of landscape-level mitigation techniques that encourage elephants to use pathways away from human activity and help define spatial boundaries for management of human-elephant conflict in multi-use landscapes.