Botswana contains the largest free-ranging elephant population in sub-Saharan Africa, with the highest densities occurring in the north-eastern region of the country. It is not surprising, therefore, that elephants are one of the most important wildlife resources in the country and one that carries with it the greatest impact. A relatively recent expansion in the range of elephants throughout northern Botswana has contributed to a large influx into the Okavango Delta and, as a result, an increase in the number of Human-Elephant Conflict (HEC) reports from many of the local communities there. HEC poses one of the most serious challenges to wildlife management throughout the Okavango Delta Ramsar site and, as such, has been chosen as an important management intervention in the implementation of the Okavango Delta Management Plan (ODMP). However, a more detailed understanding of the underlying patterns and processes of HEC, through extensive fieldwork and data collation, is essential before effective management and HEC mitigation measures can be implemented. This PhD study took place over four years, 2008-2011.
The general objective of this study was to gain a greater understanding of the complexities of the competition between people and elephants, focusing on elements that can be investigated in the short term and could aid in devising effective mitigation and management strategies. Specifically, I aimed to a) determine the current elephant population numbers and growth rate in the study area and investigate how reliable aerial survey estimates are; b) monitor the extent of human-elephant conflict (HEC) incidents and compare community based monitoring techniques to a top-down government approach; c) determine key drivers of elephant crop-raiding and explore how spatial autocorrelation affects such data; d) investigate how elephant movements are affected by human habitat modifications, and; e) investigate rural farmers’ attitudes towards elephants and compare perceived human-elephant conflict to actual measurable levels of elephant crop damage. My findings show that combinations of social and ecological factors are involved in shaping competition between people and elephants. A multi-disciplinary approach to investigations is, therefore, needed to fully understand such competition and resulting conflicts. Contributory factors to HEC identified in this study include: actual and perceived conflict levels; farmer vulnerability to risk and available coping strategies; susceptibility of crops to elephant foraging, which affects both actual and perceived conflict levels; methods used to measure damage; natural and modified behaviour of people and elephants affecting resource and spatial use as well as how each species reacts to living in close proximity to each other; and human feelings and perception towards elephants and the situation, which are influenced by an array of socio-economic factors. To be successful, effective conflict resolution and management strategies will, therefore, require consideration of short and long term dynamics, as well as a combination of mitigation approaches that consider all elements affecting conflict extent.
I am continuing work in Botswana, specifically focusing now on developing mitigation strategies to try and reduce HEC in the study area. I am currently trialling community based conflict management approaches, combining the use of chilli pepper deterrents with improved conservation agricultural techniques.
See our website for more details: www.oeprp.org.uk
anna.songhurst [at] hotmail.com
The research team
Community based conflict management workshops