Research into how best to design elephant corridors is presently underway, in a pioneering way, in the Limpopo transfrontier conservation area.
The Greater Limpopo Conservation area is comprised of lands gazetted for the organic use by wildlife in South Africa, Zimbabwe and Mozambique. There, researchers from the NGO, Elephants Alive, have been tracking the movement of ‘pathfinding’ elephant, in a bid to better inform those that can act on the information in where wildlife corridors should be placed.
Understanding established patterns of movement is, obviously, of prime importance in building these corridors. There are moves we can still make to relocate human settlements from the path of these migrating creatures. There are also things that can be done to mitigate conflict between elephant and humans in places where humans live along these routes.
More importantly, however, we can use this information to inform on the gazetting of lands for wildlife before human growth pushes out and into these areas. If we can do this effectively, we can reduce the likelihood of our creating pressure points between us and elephant.
How the elephant corridor research has been conducted
With the help of movement-tracking collars and satellites, Elephants Alive’s research team have mapped out the paths taken by elephant in the Limpopo area over the last 25 years. They have created a graphic that tracks this movement and illustrates where elephant are most inclined to travel.
In so doing, the researchers have created a comprehensive picture of these migrating creatures travel habits. Their research, however, has gone further than simply mapping the routes.
Researchers have also looked into the whys and what fors in these travel routes. They have sought to understand why the elephant travelling these routes are choosing these specific paths and in what ways the corridors can be shaped or designs to limit potentially fractious interactions between the two species.
One experiment they conducted involved them laying out a variety of different edible plant species in order to ascertain which of these the elephant found pleasing and offensive. The hope, thereafter, is that we can shape the corridors with pleasing foodstuffs further away from humans and offensive ones as they approach human habitation.
They have also experimented, with the help of Lucy King and the Save the Elephant’s beehive initiative, into the efficacy of beehive fences. We, here in Tsavo, know that the beehive fences are effective as elephant deterrents.
In the Limpopo area, they have also trialled the use of the beehive fences in keeping elephant to the parts of corridors that they are best protected from conflict.
Researchers also found that elephant are more inclined to use corridors, and do so peaceably, if they feel themselves capable of hiding themselves. Corridors, the researchers assert, are more capable of reducing instance rates of conflict, if they provide tree cover that the elephant can hide amongst and feel themselves in greater safety.
Interesting findings, based off of elephant inclinations, give us food for thought
All of these findings together amount to a greater awareness with regards to what elephant ‘want’ from their corridors. Much effort is given to the work of gazetting lands for the natural use by wildlife, and research into the importance of elephant in maintaining our environment has been fruitful in the fight to convince governments.
But, equally important, is the ensuring that these lands, once they have been put aside for the use by wildlife, satisfy the wildlife’s needs. Research such as Elephants Alive’s will be crucial in ensuring gazetted lands do so.