Reconnection Of Elephant Populations In Southern Africa Vital

A new study by the University of Pretoria, Duke University and Elephants Without Borders has highlighted the importance of reconnecting elephant habitats by opening safe corridors for elephants dispersal in Southern Africa.

The recent study published in the scientific journal PLoS ONE underscores the importance of reconnecting elephant habitats through safe corridors.

Using satellite telemetry data in about 1.2 million locations, the researchers tracked 261 elephants across southern Africa showing that natural features limit elephants movement further identifying human factors, such as fences that prevent or restrict their dispersal. 

The paper focusses on southern Africa (Angola, Botswana, Malawi, Mozambique, Namibia, South Africa, Zambia, and Zimbabwe), which spans nearly 7 million km2 and contains approximately 80% of the world’s savannah elephants mostly living on about 900,000 km2 of protected areas.

A press release issued by Elephant Without Boarders on 17 October underscored that the study considers the prospects for improving connections between protected areas that harbour the remaining elephant populations of the region.

‘’ In essence, elephants are not demanding. They need space, water, grass, and trees, as well as freedom from harassment. However, savanna Africa is no longer theirs. People now dominate 80% of the land they used to live on prior to colonial developments. Their compression into protected areas benefits them, but not for long, as confinement creates problems. Confinement to protected areas and the fragmentation of the once continuous population, have adverse demographic and genetic consequences for elephants, all which are against the first principles of conservation. We therefore urgently need a solution. ‘’

The researchers advises that reconnecting nature offers a solution reiterating that the resulting connectedness and enlargement of protected estates agrees with the guiding principles of the Global Deal for Nature (GDN) to enhance the connectivity of protected areas to improve population viability and persistence, especially of large-bodied herbivores.  

Telemetry paths of elephants (black) in the Zambezi and northern Botswana regions overlaid on a human population density map (orange). Rivers (blue-purple lines) and fences (red lines) also act as barriers to elephant movement. Green areas in the subset map mark protected areas. 

For many parts of Africa, the answer of whether it is possible to reconnect elephant populations into a more robust metapopulation is not only dependent on environmental or anthropogenic limitations but rather on socio-political will.

‘’Will governments cooperate? If so, where and what are the constraints to be considered: fences, water, terrain, suitable and safe habitat, communities and cattle, open corridors or is it mainly sociopolitical will? These are undoubtedly difficult questions, but we must pose them when seeking connectivity across a continent’’ states the press release.

They further underscore that the network of protected areas provides a foundation warning that however long-term population stability will be difficult at best without the dispersal of elephants.

‘’In cooperation with local communities and governments, protecting the connections identified here for elephant dispersal may represent some of our best chances at a sustainable future for elephants’’ it concluded.

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