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EleFact Friday: Connecting Pathways

When it comes to the conservation of the elephant species, we’ve shared time and time before that the greatest threat to the species as a whole is the destruction of their native habitats and resources. To protect elephants in the wild, it’s imperative to protect their spaces. A recent study shows that populations of African elephants have been stabilizing in the southern heartlands of the continent, seemingly due to the protection of habitats but, more importantly, as a result of making sure that these areas have connecting pathways.

Researchers administered population surveys from 103 protected African areas from Tanzania southwards to calculate rates of growth or decline, covering more than 290,000 Savannah elephants. It was found that overall, population numbers had grown at 0.16% a year from the past quarter of a century. Although that may not sound like a lot, it is much improved than previously recorded declining numbers. The most fascinating and telling part of the study was the determination that the most stable populations were found in larger, well-protected lands that were connected to “buffer areas.” The numbers of elephants in these buffer areas were more likely to decline, but the spaces themselves served a useful function as they restored a natural dynamic to the environment. Comparatively, isolated and more highly protected parks did have larger growth numbers, but the elephants had nowhere to disperse to, which damages the habitat more intensely or forces difficult and expensive relocations. 

Overall, the data shows that these protected areas are more successful when connected to other places where the elephants can migrate back and forth, similarly to how they would without human involvement; it allows them to disperse more evenly, minimizing human-elephant conflict. As Professor Stuart Pimm states in the study, “We need to protect elephants, but we also need to connect them. We have fragmented the world, and we need to stitch it back together again.”

To read more about this study, check out this link: https://nicholas.duke.edu/news/protected-areas-elephants-work-best-if-they-are-connected

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