Mkuburo L, Nahonyo C, Smit J, Jones T & Kohi E (2020) Investigation of the effect of poaching on African elephant (Loxodonta africana) group size and composition in Ruaha National Park, Tanzania. Scientific African, 9, Art. No.: e00490. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.sciaf.2020.e00490
Monitoring the impacts of poaching on wildlife is crucial to the management of ecosystems and wildlife populations. Previous studies have shown that poaching can affect the demography, reproduction and behavior of wildlife. For African elephants (Loxodonta africana), poaching has been shown to affect population numbers, structure, breeding system, behavior and activity patterns. This study investigated whether there were significant differences in group size and composition of African elephants in Ruaha National Park, Tanzania between areas of high- and low poaching levels, based on the 2013 whole-ecosystem aerial census, which we used as a proxy for poaching pressure. Elephant group size and composition were recorded along 417.6 km of monthly transects from May to November 2016, and again from May to November 2017. Comparison of cow/calf group sizes revealed that the group sizes were larger in areas with low poaching pressure. The dependent-to-adult female ratio was higher in areas with low poaching pressure, while the proportion of adult females was higher in areas with high poaching pressure. The proportions of cow/calf and mixed group types were higher in areas with low poaching pressure. A higher proportion of bull groups were seen in areas with high poaching pressure, which could be evidence of a risk response strategy. Therefore, poaching has significantly shaped grouping patterns, composition and has caused reproductive suppression in Ruaha elephants. We recommend a genetic study of this elephant population to establish the degree of relatedness among families to understand the extent of social structure breakdown caused by social stress due to high poaching pressure in the past years.
Ruaha; Elephant; Poaching; Group; Composition
Scientific African: Volume 9