I am studying the behaviour of wild African elephants, Loxodonta africana, in a South African National Park. Madikwe Game Reserve holds over 1200 elephants, currently presenting the highest density of elephants in South Africa. The original breeding population was translocated there from traumatic backgrounds such as culling and heavy poaching. Further, the whole population currently has to cope with an ongoing drought in South Africa.
As part of my research I study elephant behavioural ecology with a special interest to stress-related and aggressive behaviour. Five minute focal animal observations as well as herd scan samples were carried out on known and random individuals. Additionally, I collected faecal samples for stress hormone and thyroid hormone analysis and recorded vocalisations at the herd level for analysis of fundamental frequency. Satellite collared females provided spatial data for home range and spatial analysis.
Preliminary results showed that game drive vehicle presence did increase stress-related behaviour in female elephants, that elephant herds move away from areas in which tourists are watching them and that high tourist pressure increases stress hormone levels. Data analysis is ongoing.
This reserach will increase our understanding of this population and inform local management in terms of potential stressors to the elephants. It is also the first to investigate how wildlife tourism affects elephants. Additionally, hormone analysis will further our knowledge about stress hormone levels and be the first of its kind to analyse thyroid hormones in wild elephants.
Liverpool John Moores Universtiy, United Kingdom, MPhil
Liverpool John Moores University, United Kingdom, BSc(Hons)
Szott I, Pretorius Y, Koyama N. Behavioural changes in African elephants in response to wildlife tourism Journal of Zoology,