IntroductionStudying elephants that are utilising the Makgadikgadi and Nxai Pan National Parks (MNPNP), historically a peripheral elephant range, will educate us on the conservation of elephant landscapes to increase connectivity between populations. The MNPNP as part of the Northern Conservation Area (NCA), is home to the largest population of elephant in the world and is part of the Kavango-Zambezi Transfrontier Conservation Area.
A study in this re-colonised area will provide insight into how elephants may cope with climate change, guiding us on how to conserve elephant habitat in the future throughout their range. Additionally, the large number of male elephant sighted in the area leads to a unique study on male elephant sociality.
Researcher: Dr Kate EvansRegion: Makgadikgadi and Nxai Pan National Parks, Botswana
Organization: Elephants For Africa
Dr Evans was the winner of the ‘George B Rabb Conservation Medal’ from the Chicago Zoological Society, its first woman and non-American recepiant. She is co-founder of the charity Elephants For Africa, and for several years ran it single handledly, dealing with the website, PR, accounts, reporting, permits etc.Since 1997 she worked in the field in Southern Africa carrying out hands-on conservation research; working with a diverse range of fauna, in a number of different habitats.
BackgroundThe Northern Conservation Area (NCA) of Botswana is home to the largest population of elephant in the world and is part of the Kavango-Zambezi Transfrontier Conservation Area. The Makgadikgadi and Nxai Pan National Parks (MNPNP), as part of this region, are thus priority areas for elephant conservation and have been highlighted as such by the Worldwide Fund for Nature (WWF). Studying the elephant that utilise the MNPNP, historically a peripheral elephant range, can educate researchers and managers on the conservation of elephant landscapes so as to increase connectivity between populations – a conservation priority of the WWF.
The MNPNP attracts male elephants; however no data is available on their demographics and ecological requirements. This area also has the highest incidents of human-wildlife conflict (HWC) in Botswana. Understanding these elephants and potential fluctuations in population alongside habitat changes contributes to national (Department of Environmental Affairs), regional (Department of Environmental Affairs and Centre for Applied Research) and AfESG (African Elephant Specialist Group) research priorities.
A study in this re-colonised area provides insight into how elephants may cope with climate change, providing insight into how to conserve elephant habitats in future throughout their range. Additionally, the large number of male elephants sighted in the area leads to a unique study on male elephant sociality.
Our work with communities, assessing HWC and supplementing the Department of National Parks’ (DWNP) work on mitigation education, will address socioeconomic issues, to alleviate conflict and work towards human-wildlife coexistence and food security.
- Enable the various partners such as Department of National Parks and the African Elephant Specialist Group to make informed management decisions regarding Botswana’s elephant population, through the provision of scientific data on social and ecological requirements of elephants.
- Forecast future movements due to range expansion as well as the possible effects of climate change by quantifying elephant habitat utilisation.
- Implement artificial waterhole management through the monitoring of vegetation changes and elephant utilisation of vegetation.
- Investigate the effects of ecology and density on male elephant testosterone and corticosteroid levels.
Health and Welfare
- Instigate an effective human-elephant conflict (HEC) policy in Botswana, by investigating the actual incidence of HEC in the elephants’ peripheral range, identifying “Hotspots” and perpetrators of crop damage.
- Enhance the sustainability of fragmented elephant populations through the collection of baseline data on the parasites to which a wild population is exposed.
- Compare the parasite loads of the population of the Makgadikgadi and Nxai Pan National Parks to that of the Okavango Delta – to investigate effects of contact with human habitation and livestock.
Our education programmes are aimed at two levels – youngsters of school going age and adults:
- Provide an education programme to engage community members in their wildlife.
- Dissipate information about mitigation techniques and government initiatives through local media.
- Provide regular up-to-date information on the elephants of Botswana to the DWNP, Botswana Wildlife Training Institute (BWTI), schools and local stakeholders.
- Contribute to the global understanding and appreciation of the African elephant through publication in international peer reviewed journals, magazines, websites and attendance of conferences etc.
- Train the conservation leaders of the future through the Boyce-Zero Scholarship Fund and Elephant Weekends.
MethodologyTwo rangers are being trained to carry out management-orientated monitoring. Data is collected from them on a regular basis and this is coordinated with regional DWNP officers, to supplement their programme on mitigation education and implementation, and the national Human Wildlife Coexistence Project.
Working with WildTrack, we are developing individual track recognition software for assessment of human-elephant conflict.
Reports will be made, summarising data of the conflict zone, showing distribution, frequency and severity of elephant damage, to enable timely local level management decisions.
MontoringMonitoring the numbers, distribution, habitat utilisation and movement of elephant is an important factor in elephant conservation.
Data will be collected on behaviour, hormones and demographics to assess the effects of habitat on elephant ecology. Methods include faecal data, hormonal analysis for testosterone and corticosteroids, demography and range use.
Elephants will be located on regular routes. Upon sighting an individual or group of elephant, GPS coordinates, time seen, number of individuals, approximate age, sex, habitat type, social grouping, physical condition and activity will be recorded. All elephants are individually identified. Individual recognition is important to understand sociality, and has potential to be used in mark-and-recapture analysis.
DWNP has highlighted the demographics of mammalian species in the MNPNP area as a research priority; therefore AfESG will implement monthly mammal road surveys. Upon sighting an animal or group of animals, the species, sex, approximate age, number, habitat, GPS location, date, time and distance from the road will be collected.
Data will be sent to DWNP to monitor the demographic and habitat changes, helping to predict population, movement and habitat changes of mammals.
Preliminary data in the Okavango Delta has shown that age, group size, year and season affect parasite load. Faecal egg counts will be undertaken in the field and at the University of Bristol, using the McMaster test.
Part of the project is the development of a course to enable youth to learn professional skills and conservation within a fun environment. The courses will be held over a weekend during the school term, and additional sessions will take place when researchers/instructors visit the youth during school. At that time, the youth will be evaluated on how much information has been retained and how they are implementing their experiences.
Theoretically, male elephants will begin to explore new habitats which will then pave the way for the more cautious females and this has proven to be the case in our Makgadikgadi National Park study site in Botswana.
The herd were caught on our camera traps at night and have now been sighted during the day. We knew that they were in the vicinity due to the footprints found by the riverbed; so to then see them bathing during the daytime was wonderful.
We currently think that there are two herds of 11 and 15, but they are still quite skittish so observations tend to be short.