Liverpool Skylilne

School of Biological and Environmental Sciences

Isabelle Szott


PhD project title: The impact of wildlife tourism on elephants, Loxodonta africana, in South Africa.
Supervisors: Dr Nicola Koyama, Prof Serge Which, Dr Antje Engelhardt
Host supervisor at University of Pretoria: Dr Yolanda Pretorius

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.
As part of my research I study the effect of non-consumptive wildlife tourism on free-ranging elephants.
I collected five minute focal animal observations as well as herd scan samples 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 variations in fundamental frequency. Satellite collared females provided spatial data for home range and spatial analysis.
Analyses showed that elephants became increasingly likely to perform aggressive behaviours towards their conspecifics, when tourist pressure (total number of tourist in the reserve) increased. Elephant herds became increasingly likely to move away when increasing numbers of tourist vehicles were present. Physiological stress hormone concentrations also increased with increasing tourist pressure.
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)


Journal article

Szott I, Pretorius Y, Ganswindt A, Koyama NF. 2020. Normalized Difference Vegetation Index, temperature, and age affect faecal thyroid hormone concentrations in free-ranging African elephants. Conservation Physiology, 8 :1-13 DOI Author Url Public Url

Szott I, Pretorius Y, Ganswindt A, Koyama N. 2019. Physiological stress response of African elephants to wildlife tourism in Madikwe Game Reserve, South Africa Wildlife Research, DOI Author Url Public Url

Szott I, Pretorius Y, Koyama N. 2019. Behavioural changes in African elephants in response to wildlife tourism Journal of Zoology, DOI Author Url Public Url

Engagement & Impact

Conference presentation:

Wildlife tourism impacts on free-ranging African elephants, LivLabs Meeting, Oral presentation. 2018

Wildlife tourism impacts on free-ranging African elephants, European Conference on Behavioural Biology, Oral presentation. 2018

Impact of game drive vehicle presence on African elephant behaviour in Madikwe Game Reserve, ZA, International Women's Day Conference, Poster presentation.


Associate Fellow, Higher Education Academy.