African Elephants in a Landscape of Fear, Behaviour and Evolution Research Group
African elephants are experiencing dramatic population declines, with an estimated 144,000 elephants lost between 2007 and 2014 (Chase et al. 2016), primarily due to illegal killing for ivory (Wittemyer et al. 2014, Wasser et al. 2015). In addition to poaching, a big challenge for elephant conservation in the long-term is coexistence with people (Hoare 2015). As such, novel protection and coexistence strategies informed by elephant behaviour and risk management are urgently needed. Elephants demonstrate behavioural strategies in response to anthropogenic risk, including spatiotemporal resource sharing with pastoralists in the Amboseli ecosystem (Kangwana 2011) and distinct movement patterns outside Protected Areas (Graham et al. 2009). We have limited understanding of elephants’ spatial and temporal responses to poaching pressure, however, and our efforts to protect elephants will be helped by better understanding of these responses. In addition, we are still uncovering elephant leadership and risk management strategies in populations with different histories of anthropogenic risk (Lee & Moss 2012; Gobush & Wasser 2009), and how effective these strategies are at buffering those risks. My research project aims to understand elephant behavioural responses and strategies to anthropogenic risk, including elephant use of key resources, activity patterns and ranging behaviour, and social strategies. With greater understanding how elephants respond to and buffer anthropogenic risks, we will be able to develop novel conservation strategies that incorporate the behavioural flexibility of elephants to increase protection for elephants inside protected areas and enhance coexistence between people and elephants.
In 2014, I co-founded Southern Tanzania Elephant Program, an elephant research and conservation organization with field sites in the Ruaha-Rungwa and Udzungwa-Selous ecosystems. As General Manager, I oversee STEP’s research programs, including an elephant monitoring project in Ruaha National Park, a citizen science collaboration with tour guides and conservation partners in Ruaha, and research on human-elephant interactions. I also support implementation of STEP’s human-elephant coexistence projects and advise a Tanzanian advocacy campaign for elephants.
Though I am originally from the Netherlands, I have lived in Tanzania for over 20 years. Growing up, I explored many of Tanzania’s extraordinary protected areas, and it is my long-term goal to contribute to conservation of the wild places that have shaped to inspire me. In addition to my research and conservation interests, I enjoy bird-watching, botanizing, hiking, diving, and organizing live music events.