We started this project as we were concerned about the impact of hunting on male elephant behaviour and how they react to humans, our main concern being that the elephants would become more aggressive which would impact how they interreacted with the communities bordering the Makgadikgadi Pans National Park. During our study period there have been far fewer hunts than anticipated, no doubt due to limitations in travel. It will be interesting to see if they do increase, or if hunting levels are now lower since the reintroduction of hunting.
Whilst hunting levels were low, and thus any conclusion impacted by the small sample, we did not note any change in reaction indices in the male elephants we monitored. Doing this work has introduced an important protocol to our work, which we shall continue to use
Since our last report to you we have collared 10 adult male elephants in the region and they may also shed light on the impact of hunting, as in other areas it has been noted that when an individual is hunted, others will move out of the area, so we shall see if these 10 individuals react similarly. Although one has already moved into Zimbabwe!
Whilst our initial study period for this project is over, we will continue with our monitoring of the male elephants of the Makgadikgadi, including noting their reaction and keeping a note of any hunting event to see, over time, if hunting impacts the behaviour of elephants. We shall also continue to talk to the community members about how they perceive elephants to be reacting, as and when they encounter them.
In the next month or so we shall update the project details to reflect these changes. Thank you so much for your support of this work, we simply could not do this without you.
It has been a busy time since our last report in April, this year the cropping season went into May and so our Research Officer, Thata and tracker, Lewis, were very busy attending all the crop raids. This also meant that our time in the Makgadikgadi Pans National Park was limited and highlighted our need for another research officer and infrastructure to enable us to continue with the monitoring in the park at a high level throughout the year; for now, that will have to remain an aspiration.
Whilst we live and work in a remote location, we are still affected by the global community, its economics and politics, challenges, and turmoil. We knew it would be hard to survive the pandemic as a small charity and the restrictions in funding we encountered, and I am incredibly proud of the team for working so hard to cut back, think outside the box and remain resilient to ensure we could deliver to our beneficiaries. I hoped we would then have time to recover before another challenge came our way, but that was not to be so; fuel prices have been skyrocketing throughout the world and the same is true for Botswana with fuel prices doubling. This has blown our budget and so we are working hard to bridge the funding gap and limit fuel use where we can, so for the time being we are limiting our research sessions in the park thus, limiting our data.
However, there is always a silver lining and in July we welcomed our first international student back to camp after almost a 3-year hiatus. Many students associated with Elephants for Africa had to work remotely using our historical data, or we assisted them with questionnaires, others postponed their fieldwork and degrees. We are delighted that we have now been able to welcome them back to camp in person, creating a fabulous atmosphere in camp and wonderful learning opportunities for staff and students alike. This also means that we have more people out there spending time with the elephants and more data coming in. Any associated student contributes data to our database
Our data has revealed no effect of hunting or season on the reaction indices of the elephants, we look forward to adding the data from the students and doing further analyses. In the next month, we will be collaring 10 adult male elephants to gather more data on how elephants are utilising the National Park and surrounding communities, it will be interesting to see if that operation affects the population as a whole and how they react to humans.
As always, we hope that this finds you well and we look forward to updating you next time.
Since our last report we have been able to continue with our research unhindered, aside from a few logistical challenges, and therefore we have done some initial analyses to see if the cropping season has an impact on how they react to humans. It is currently the cropping season in Botswana and the team is busy attending crop raided fields to get valuable data on where the elephants have come from, how many there were and an estimate of their ages from the size of their footprints.
So far, our data shows that the male elephants in the Makgadikgadi Pans National Park are mostly unaffected by the presence of humans with reaction indices of 1 or 2 (not reacting at all, elephant notices the vehicle but does not show signs of agitation or fear). With reaction 2 being the most common (Figure 1) throughout the year.
Whilst it is not appropriate to test for the effects of hunting on our sample, given the low number of hunts that took place during our data collection to date (1), we also theorised that age, crop season and group size might affect how an elephant reacted when they were first approached by researchers in a vehicle. As the data is categorial we used Chi-squared tests throughout. We found that the age of the elephant did not affect the reaction indices, X2 (1, N=751) = 2.0769, p=0.35, Figure 2. However, the social grouping of the males observed did affect the reaction indices, X2 (1, N=797) = 12.8115, p=0.0.001, with lone males more likely to react by noticing the research vehicle but does not show signs of agitation or fear (Figure 3).
When we investigated the effect of the crop-raiding season, we found no significant difference in the reaction indices of the male elephants in the park X2 (1, N=797) = 0.9644, p=0.326, Figure 4. The final aspect we thought might affect the reaction indices of the elephant we observed is the distance from the observer to the elephants on first sighing, here we found a significant difference X2 (1, N=133) = 46.2812, p=0.00001, Figure 5.
In summary, it is very reassuring to note that the elephants in the Makgadikgadi Pans National Park are very calm about the presence of humans and that at the moment it does not look like the crop-raiding season affects this, however, we look forward to including the additional data from this year. It is not surprising that elephants that are observed less than 50m from the observer will be more reactive, but again reassuring to note that the reaction is minimal
Whilst our work has not been able to focus any analyses on the implications of hunting on the reaction of elephants to human presence, your support has enabled us to capture valuable data on the elephants that utilise the Makgadikgadi Pans National Park and we hope that you feel that your donation has been used to further the knowledge of male African elephants.
Since our last report there have been no more hunts in our study area, but with good rains, the crops are being raided and one elephant was shot by a farmer having been trapped in this field. Our research Officer continues to collect valuable data in the field on how the elephants are reacting to our presence and to date there has been no significant change, but with tourism numbers so low and Botswana recently red-listed, we are not experienced the number of hunts we were expecting. Given the low numbers of tourists over the past couple of years, we have the potential to investigate whether tourism numbers affect how elephants react.
The re-erection of the park fence on the western boundary of the Makgadikgadi Pans National Park has meant that elephants are trapped on the community side and the spoor we are finding is showing us how they are trying to get back into the park, we will be making some recommendations to the authorities on how they may help them find their way back and we look forward to working with them in the new year.
We hope that this update finds you and your loved ones well and happy.
Due to the global pandemic tourism activities, including hunting, all but came to a halt in April 2020 when the country went into lockdown. Since then, local tourism has increased, and a few international tourists are travelling but many are restricted by Covid-19 restrictions and protocols. This delayed the opening of the resumption of hunting in Botswana until the 30th March 2021, and we can confirm that this has now resumed and at least one hunt has occurred in our study area.
Whilst most of our research activities have been able to resume unhindered this year, regional travel restrictions are taking a toll on our logistics as our main service town Maun, where we buy our supplies, get our permits and services our vehicles is in another region!
There has been no obvious change in the behaviour of elephants when we first see them when observed in the National Park, however with just the one hunt so far this is to be expected. We shall also be using our data to compare the reaction to humans between the cropping and non-cropping season.
It is also interesting to note that the Department of Wildlife and National Park are re-erecting the park fence on the western boundary of the Makgadikgadi Pans National Park, which will limit the access the elephants have to the community side and may affect their behaviour and their reaction indices due to the stress of not being able to access valuable resources. We look forward to finding out.
We hope that this finds you in good health.
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