The primary goal of this human-elephant conflict project is to assess the location and severity of the conflicts within communities adjacent to Nkala GMA and to understand farmers’ perceptions of elephants. Also central to this research is to collect data about the identity and distribution of elephant herds that reside in the conflict area, with the aim of understanding elephant behaviours and movements and thus the dynamics of herd conflict with the communities. A subsequent phase of this project will identify, and in conjunction with ZAWA, suggest and help implement methods to reduce elephant crop-raiding, and potentially improve farmers’ incomes by growing alternative crops.
Researcher: Dr Kerryn Carter
Region: Kafue National Park, Zambia
Kerryn Carter has a PhD from the University of Queensland, Brisbane, Australia and a BSc in Zoology and Wildlife Biology from the University of New England, Armidale, Australia
Human-elephant conflict has become a major problem with 484 problem elephant incidents reported to the Zambia Wildlife Authority (ZAWA) between 2007 and 2011 from communities adjacent to the three game management areas (GMAs) surrounding southern Kafue National Park (KNP).
The majority of these elephant incidents occurred near the Nkala GMA, where this study is focused, with 355 reports since 2007. Over 80% of these reported incidents occurred in 2010/11; therefore human-elephant conflict appears to have escalated over recent years. Local media reported in 2012 that elephant crop-raiding has resulted in displacement of farmers from their homes due to fear of elephants. Community members feel that the elephant population is increasing rapidly and are pressuring ZAWA to do more to alleviate the associated problems within communities.
Human-elephant conflict is widespread across Africa between African elephants and the farming community. This conflict revolves around crop-raiding by elephants, which can severely affect the livelihood and security of subsistence farmers. Farming communities often regard wildlife authorities as responsible for crop damage by wildlife, which can undermine conservation efforts.
- Investigate and build a database of elephant-conflict incidents and community perceptions of elephants within the Nkala GMA to gain a detailed understanding of the human-elephant conflict problem.
- Establish an identification catalogue and database of bull elephants and female breeding herds that are found in the conflict area to enable identification of elephants that repeatedly come into conflict with the community.
- In conjunction with ZAWA, suggest and help to implement suitable mitigation measures for each location where human-elephant conflict occurs. (Phase 2)
The study will be carried out in association with ZAWA staff from Ngoma’s ecological department and conducted in an area that incorporates Nkala GMA, the Ngoma Forest Complex and Lake Itezhi Tezhi shoreline.
Villages will be visited and data will be collected regarding elephant-conflict events to enable a full understanding of the current problem. A database of elephant-conflict incidents will be developed and passed on to ZAWA staff for updating with future information. After the initial data collection phase in 2013/14 for this project is complete, ZAWA field staff will be selected and trained to collect data to ensure it complies with Human Elephant Conflict Working Group standards.
A wildlife perceptions survey will also be conducted within communities to assess people’s perception of wild elephants, their ideas about solving elephant-conflict problems, and what percentage of community members is directly affected. Data will also be collected about the current yield and economic value of local crops to assist research into alternative crops that are both unpalatable to elephants and can provide improved economic returns.
At each sighting of an elephant group, the date, time, GPS and name of location, habitat type and group size will be recorded. For each individual in the group, photos will be taken, where possible, of both sides of the elephant plus a front profile when ears are forward and individual profiles will be created in a Microsoft Access database. The sex, age class and reproductive class (if known) of individuals will be recorded. Elephants will be identified by the nicks characterising their ears using an automated multi-curve matching system. This identification will be confirmed by reference to the photo identification catalogue along with combinations of natural features such as tusk shape/length, body scars and other distinctive body characteristics.
These data will also assist our future understanding about:
– long-term associations between individual elephants
– relatedness (obtained from mother-calf observations)
– the distribution of herds and seasonal use of the HEC area
– important elephant habitats
Once data has been collated about community attitudes towards elephants and elephant-conflict incidents, a better understanding of the problems facing local communities will be available. The researchers will then discuss each conflict location with ZAWA staff and investigate which mitigation measure may be appropriate for each situation (e.g. chilli crops, beehive fences, flashing lights).
Mitigation Measures Trialled:
The project will be erecting a trial 3km electric poliwire fence along one portion of the Nkala GMA boundary and will monitor its efficiency in deterring elephants from moving into farming areas. Poliwire is a mix of fine wire interwoven with nylon, and due to its flexibility, is not stiff enough to be used to create wildlife snares. This eliminates the collateral damage that other barrier fences have caused, when fencing wire has been stolen to make snares.
An experimental trial of a solar-powered electric poliwire fence-line was conducted in the 2016 maize-growing season to assess its potential as a seasonal barrier fence to prevent elephant movements from the National Park into farming areas, where elephants have developed a culture of crop-raiding. Poliwire was our chosen fencing wire so as to eliminate any collateral damage from wildlife snares in the event that wire was stolen from the fence-line.
The site for the trial was selected based upon high levels of elephant use along the interface between the Nkala Game Management Area (GMA) and adjacent farming areas, which we identified from elephant movement data previously collected by the study.
The poliwire fence was constructed using 2-strands of electrified poliwire with an additional strand of poliwire that was used as an earth wire. The poliwire was placed at a height of 1.85 metres, supported by poles placed 15 metres apart and flagged with plastic strips to ensure visibility. Members of the community were employed to assist with fence construction and to supply and transport the fence posts. Electrification was achieved using an energiser unit, which was powered by a battery and solar panel. Our aim was to have the minimum voltage of the poliwire at 7.0 kV, based on studies in Kenya with the use of electrified fences to mitigate HEC on the Laikipia Plateau. Despite testing a number of configurations, we found that due to the greater resistivity of the poliwire’s 6 stainless steel strands compared to conventional fencing wire, it could not maintain a voltage of more than 7.0 kV after one kilometre.
After construction was complete, staff from the Department of National Parks and Wildlife monitored the fence-line daily for signs of elephants and other large wildlife, and their interaction with the fence-line.
During the trial, the electrified poliwire strands were not broken by elephants. Elephants approached the poliwire fence-line on 10 occasions, and footprints were recorded within 2 and 7 metres from the fence-line for six of these encounters, yet the fence-line was not challenged. From the large amount of elephant activity recorded at the end of the fence-line, it appeared that to pass the fence, elephant herds were generally moving along the fence-line to the end. However on three occasions, elephant tracks were seen to pass underneath the poliwire (voltage 5.3 kV on two of these occasions), and fence posts were removed by elephants on one of these occasions (the voltage of the fence at this location was 3.8 kV).
Unfortunately, we were not able to evaluate elephants’ level of habituation to the electric poliwire fence over time, as our trial was interrupted by a sudden government programme to construct a road along the Nkala GMA boundary where our trial was situated, and we were instructed to remove the fence-line almost 2 months before the end of the maize-growing season.
Wildlife such as buffalo, impala, waterbuck and zebra herds were recorded moving under the electric poliwire on 11 occasions, evidenced by their footprints. This fence design therefore has the potential to enable ecosystem processes to remain intact by limiting its impact to only the target species without affecting other large mammals. Such temporary fencing projects that do not have a broad scale ecological impact have merit for further investigation.
This particular product of temporary fencing wire from Stafix does not have sufficient conductivity to cover long distances, such as in our barrier fence trial. Therefore this poliwire product is more suited to farm-based applications to deter elephants from smaller farm plots, especially as it is locally available and very economical for farmers to purchase compared to conventional fencing wire.
The project erected a trial 3km electric poliwire fence along one portion of the Nkala GMA boundary and monitored its efficiency in deterring elephants from moving into farming areas. Poliwire is a mix of fine wire interwoven with nylon, and due to its flexibility, is not stiff enough to be used to create wildlife snares. This eliminates the collateral damage that other barrier fences have caused, when fencing wire has been stolen to make snares.
The project has already been successful in deterring elephant from entering a release facility for orphaned elephant in southern Kafue National Park for the past two years by using a single electrified poliwire strand. Further trials of a four single-strand poliwire fences on maize fields have confirmed that it is a promising elephant deterrent method for conflict areas. Added to this, the trial fence will block elephants while enabling other animals to pass under the strands, thereby ensuring that ecosystem processes remain intact.
The fence will be monitored frequently to record data about elephant incursions and to ensure it is well-maintained. ZAWA personnel will be equipped to use this mitigation method independently in the hope that it will be incorporated into their human-elephant conflict programme in the future.
Habituation of elephant to the fence will be evaluated by testing whether elephant encounters with the electric polywire increase towards the end of the maize season when the crops mature. If this study confirms that the fence remains effective over this time period, the system would be recommended for application in communities across Africa.
The fence will be removed after the maize harvest, and if the trial is successful, it can easily be reinstalled during subsequent maize seasons.
Annual Report 2014
Data relating to human-elephant conflict events since 2007 were mapped, showing that areas of highest conflict in the communities are those closest to the ~40 km-long boundary of the Nkala GMA as expected.
Movement data collected this year suggest that elephants move in the direction of the communities in the late afternoon and return to the protected area before dawn. Mapping of the conflict events, combined with knowledge of elephant habitat use within the protected area, has enabled projections about the movement pathways of breeding herds into the conflict hotspots and the likely source locations of these herds within the Park.
Work planned for 2014 includes experimental trials of potential mitigation measures, based on the knowledge of these elephant movement pathways into the communities.