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Land use changes affect elephant movement

Recent research completed by Elephants Without Borders (EWB) and Radboud University demonstrates that human land use directly influences elephant movement through corridors.

The expansion of human-dominated landscapes means huge consequences for wildlife. Not only can these environments make navigation more difficult for animals, they are also a driving factor for human-wildlife conflict. Habitat loss and fragmentation are some of the leading threats to biodiversity, and well-managed corridors are essential for species survival. 

“This is the first study of this type that takes an in-depth look at comparing how varying land-use affects elephant movements and their use of wildlife corridors,” said study lead author Tempe Adams of EWB.

The researchers spent seven years observing elephant movements through six wildlife corridors in Botswana and Zambia. They used camera traps to determine whether elephants used agricultural and urban corridors differently. 

The experts found that varying land use can affect the times of day elephants move through passageways. Elephants using corridors in landscapes dominated by agriculture opted for nocturnal movement, thereby avoiding human activity. On the other hand, elephants did not alter when they moved through urban corridors, so their movements often coincided with human activity.

“This was a great opportunity to link our work on examining human pressures on biodiversity at Radboud University with the conservation work being done by Elephants Without Borders,’ said study co-author Marlee Stevens. “Our results show that elephants alter their behaviour in human-modified landscapes, but their response varies depending on the human disturbance.”

Since the study demonstrates wildlife may alter their behavior based on the type of human environment they encounter, corridor management strategies should consider land use.

“What is truly remarkable is that we found elephants do not perceive all human development the same way, but they are adjusting their behaviors to adapt to the variations and human pressure,” said Adams. “It also further highlights the need for transparent documentation of human pressure within and around protected wildlife areas, which is critical to assist in the conservation of species.”

This study is published in the journal Frontiers in Conservation Science.

By Erin Moody , Staff Writer

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