Facilitating human-elephant coexistence through applied research and outreach education by evaluating movement and land utilisation by the African savannah elephant (Loxodonta africana), and promoting coexistence, in the areas bordering the Makgadikgadi Pans National Park (MPNP) and the Hainaveld region, Botswana
Project Manager: Dr Rebecca Dannock
Contrary to continental trends, the Botswana elephant population is increasing. Elephants are now exploring historical rangelands, moving southwards into protected and unprotected areas. It is hypothesised that the Makgadikgadi Pans National Park (MPNP) may be an important link between the protected areas in the north and south of Botswana and thus a vital area to ensure safe passage for elephants. Human population has also grown, which means that human-elephant conflict is increasing. Elephants for Africa (EfA) works with communities bordering MPNP, which have only recently been re-exposed to this threat with elephants recolonising the area. These communities experience the highest national reported incidences of human-wildlife conflict.
1) Determine the major elephant transition points along the MPNP boundaries
2) Apply findings from (1) to fine-scale (crop field-level) applications to benefit communities
3) Apply findings from (1) to large-scale (landscape-level) applications to benefit conservation strategies
a) Identify where elephants enter and exit the MPNP, to determine direction of travel and movement rates.
b) Produce maps of boundary transgression “hotspots” identified in (a), the elephants’ direction of movement, and seasonal differences.
c) Determine demographics of elephant groups entering and exiting the MPNP and feed this information back to the communities. Conflict mitigation methods can be tailored depending on the demographics of the elephant groups and how this changes temporally; this information enables local adaptation of mitigation techniques.
d) Produce a map of western boundary hotspot transgression points in relation to cropping fields. The Boteti River, the only permanent water source in the MPNP, delineates the western boundary of the MPNP. To the west are villages and cattle posts, with about 70% of the population engaged in cropping. No buffer zone, and lack of cultural knowledge of how to live with elephants both contribute to high levels of elephant crop-raiding.
e) Determine whether cropping fields are being targeted by elephants because of their location, and target mitigation strategies accordingly. This will be achieved in conjunction with a planned Motswana student Masters project mapping elephant corridors through community lands. This is of particular importance, as we are currently promoting the practice of cluster fencing through our Community Coexistence Project (CCP). By identifying hotspot areas of movement, field clusters can be developed away from major elephant transit routes, reducing conflict.
f) Map transition points along the western and southern MPNP boundaries to inform the government of suitable locations for wildlife corridor(s) to connect the MPNP to the Central Kalahari Game Reserve (CKGR). It is likely elephants moving between the MPNP and CKGR are moving across the western and/or southern boundaries of the MPNP. The findings from this and EfA’s occupancy study in the area between MPNP and CKGR will allow us to present the government with suitable options for the location of such corridor(s), based on ecological, social and economic factors.
The project consists of four main activities:
- i) Spoor surveys
Spoor surveys will be conducted along the MPNP boundaries, recording GPS locations of elephant boundary transgression points. The estimated number of elephants, their direction of movement, age and sex will also be recorded. We will survey each boundary six times per year to determine the effect of season; calculating “transgression frequency” (the mean number of elephant boundary transgressions per 24 hours per km surveyed).
- ii) Camera trap surveys
Once each boundary has been initially surveyed, five well-used transgression points will be selected along the boundary for camera trap surveys. Two camera traps will be deployed at each point, facing towards each other, to capture images of both sides of each elephant, enabling identification. Repeat sightings of identified individuals within a short time period would indicate that they are not truly leaving the MPNP and instead utilising communal lands. EfA has run a camera trapping project previously, and is currently collaborating with Snapshot Safari to create a web platform where volunteer citizen scientists can classify the camera trap images and extract the required information; verified to be >98% accurate, allowing photos to be sorted and data extracted quickly and accurately.
iii) Mapping transgression points
Once transgression frequencies have been calculated, ArcGIS will be used to create maps showing the major elephant entry and exit points of the MPNP. The maps will also highlight seasonal differences. Specific maps will be developed to relate the findings to local-scale crop-raiding mitigation, and landscape-scale movement of elephants between the MPNP and CKGR.
iv) Mapping field locations and crop-raiding events in the communities bordering the western boundary of the MPNP will show boundary transgression hotspots relative to field locations. We currently work with almost 50% of the registered arable farmers in the Khumaga area and have coordinates of their fields recorded, our Community Outreach Officer (COO), will map the remaining fields. They will also collect data on crop-raiding frequency. This data, along with the Master’s project data, will be utilised in order to identify whether cropping fields are being targeted by elephants because of their location