Elephants responses to the return of hunting

by Elephants for Africa
Elephants responses to the return of hunting
Elephants responses to the return of hunting
Elephants responses to the return of hunting
Elephants responses to the return of hunting
Elephants responses to the return of hunting
Elephants responses to the return of hunting
Elephants responses to the return of hunting
Elephants responses to the return of hunting
Elephants responses to the return of hunting
Elephants responses to the return of hunting
Elephants on the river
Elephants on the river

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.

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The proportion of reaction indices per month
The proportion of reaction indices per month

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.

Reaction indices across the age groups
Reaction indices across the age groups
The effect of social grouping on reaction
The effect of social grouping on reaction
Proportion of reaction indices in the non-crop rai
Proportion of reaction indices in the non-crop rai
Affect of distance of observer on reaction
Affect of distance of observer on reaction
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Bull elephant in the Makgadikgadi Pans NP
Bull elephant in the Makgadikgadi Pans NP

Daer Supporter,

 

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.

Stay safe.

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New National Park fence in place along the Boteti
New National Park fence in place along the Boteti

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.

Research Officer Thata observing elephants
Research Officer Thata observing elephants
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Bulls in the Boteti River
Bulls in the Boteti River

We are very grateful that current Covid19 government guidelines and restrictions allow us access to the Makgadikgadi Pans National Park and can continue with our observational work on the elephant population. The majority of which are still male, although we are seeing more female herd activity in the area particularly through our camera trap survey. Of course, the pandemic has not affected the social network of the elephants, and they have been free to meet up and interact and maybe they have enjoyed the quiet of fewer visitors to their area! It will be interesting to see if after the quiet their behaviour changed and in the initial period that we and tourist return they are more skittish in their behaviour as they get used to hearing and seeing us again in their area. We hope that recommendations where you are allowing you to see more of your friends and family.

Another aspect we will have to take into consideration for our study is the weather when times are tough and food resources scare versus a time of abundance. Thanks to good rains following years of drought the elephants are enjoying a time of plenty and are spread wide and far and so they are harder for us to track down and find as they are not being drawn to the river for water. They are however being drawn to the community lands, as it is harvest season and so we are responded to farmers calls to let us know they have been raided and getting some sightings of elephants on the community side to contribute to our study.

Hunting has resumed but with restrictions on travel for many countries, it is not clear how many hunts will take place this year. We now have good baseline data for comparison and will of course continue with our weekly research drives as we head out of summer into what is predicted to be a cold winter.

We look forward to updating you again soon. Thanks so much for your continued support of our work and until next time, stay safe.

Best wishes

The EfA Team

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Elephants for Africa

Location: London - United Kingdom
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Kate Evans
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