The authors of the study believe that these highly intelligent animals now associate roads with danger – in this case poaching, which is rampant in Central Africa’s Congo Basin.
According to the study, which appears in the October 27th issue of the journal Public Library of Science (PLoSONE), forest elephants have adopted a “siege mentality,” forcing populations to become increasingly confined and isolated. This in turn reduces these normally far-ranging animals’ ability to find suitable habitat; thereby threatening long-term conservation efforts.
The study, which tracked 28 forest elephants with GPS collars, discovered that roads, particularly those outside of parks and protected areas, attract poachers and therefore have become formidable barriers to elephant movements. In fact, only one of the collared elephants crossed a road outside of a protected area and it did so at 14 times its normal speed.
The authors found that even in the largest remaining wilderness areas in Central Africa, forest elephants showed adverse reactions to roads, and that truly unconfined forest elephants traveling unfettered over wide landscapes may no longer exist anywhere in Central Africa. The results spell bad news for these endangered pachyderms, since a boom in road-building is currently underway throughout much of the region.
“Forest elephants are basically living in fear of their lives in prisons created by roads. They are roaming around the woods like frightened mice rather than tranquil formidable giants of their forest realm,” said Dr. Stephen Blake, the study’s lead author. “Forest elephants are under siege with all of the graphic images that go with it – increasing the likelihood of fear, starvation, disease, massive stress, infighting, and social disruption.”
The siege strategy may reduce the risk from poaching, but as roadless space decreases, it will likely result in loss of access to food and important mineral deposits. This will most likely result in aggressive negative behavior among elephants from different social groups, which in turn can affect reproductive success. Other negative impacts include overgrazing of local vegetation and reduced seed dispersal by elephants, which is vital to helping regenerate forests.
The WCS scientists who worked on the study include: Stephen Blake (who now works for the Max Planck Institute of Ornithology), Samantha Strindberg, Fiona Maisels, William Karesh, and Michael Kock. Other authors include Sharon Deem from the WildCare Institute, Saint Louis Zoo and University of Missouri, Ludovic Momont from the Muséum National d’Histoire Naturelle in Paris, Inogwabini-Bila Isia from the Durrell Institute of Conservation and Ecology, and Iain Douglas-Hamilton of Save the Elephants.
The authors report that since the data were collected, new road construction has already resulted in enormous losses of roadless wilderness areas in three of their six study sites in Republic of Congo and neighboring Gabon. Other multi-billion dollar development projects loom that include massive road development. However, the authors say there is still time to plan for wise development that includes diverting roads away from wilderness areas, and reducing poaching of elephants.
“A small yet very feasible shift in development planning, one that is actually good for poor local forest people and for wildlife and wilderness, would be a tremendous help to protect forest elephants and their home,” said Blake. “Planning roads to give forest elephants breathing space so that at least those in the deep forest can relax, as well as reduce the death and fear that comes with roads by reducing poaching, would be trivial in terms of cost but massively important for conservation.”
WCS elephant conservation efforts have been supported by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s African Elephant Conservation Fund, Save the Elephants, U.S. Agency for International Development Central Africa Regional Program for the Environment (CARPE)Global Environmental Facility (GEF Congo), Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species’ (CITES) Monitoring of Illegal Killing of Elephants (MIKE) Program, University of Maryland, Society for Conservation and Development, the European Union’s Espèces Phares Project and the Central African Network of Protected Areas and Columbus Zoo. The African Elephant Conservation Fund was enacted in 1990 to address the devastating affect of illegal poaching of elephants for their ivory. Since its enactment, the Fund has awarded over $18 million in grants and leveraged an additional $75 million in private and other government support for conservation projects that range from anti-poaching patrols, scientific monitoring and survey work, reduced human-wildlife conflicts to reduced trade in elephant parts. The USAID Biodiversity Program is the single largest U.S. government contributor to biodiversity conservation in developing countries and the existence of elephants serves as an indicator for the health of the CARPE landscapes. The CITES MIKE Program was established in 1997 to measure and record levels and trends of illegal hunting and trade in ivory in elephant range states, assess trends linked to changes in the listing of elephant populations in the CITES appendices and/or the resumption of legal international trade in ivory and build capacity in elephant range states. Since its inception, the MIKE Program has supported the gathering of much needed illegal hunting and ivory trade trends through surveys, GIS data analysis and other methodologies which have informed the critical decisions taken by CITES on elephant issues.
The Wildlife Conservation Society saves wildlife and wild places worldwide. We do so through science, global conservation, education and the management of the world's largest system of urban wildlife parks, led by the flagship Bronx Zoo. Together these activities change attitudes towards nature and help people imagine wildlife and humans living in harmony. WCS is committed to this mission because it is essential to the integrity of life on Earth.
Stephen Sautner | Newswise Science News
Treating ships’ ballast water: filtration preferable to disinfection
30.07.2015 | Helmholtz Zentrum München - Deutsches Forschungszentrum für Gesundheit und Umwelt
Are Fish Getting High on Cocaine?
28.07.2015 | McGill University
Glacier decline in the first decade of the 21st century has reached a historical record, since the onset of direct observations. Glacier melt is a global phenomenon and will continue even without further climate change. This is shown in the latest study by the World Glacier Monitoring Service under the lead of the University of Zurich, Switzerland.
The World Glacier Monitoring Service, domiciled at the University of Zurich, has compiled worldwide data on glacier changes for more than 120 years. Together...
Using ultracold atoms trapped in light crystals, scientists from the MPQ, LMU, and the Weizmann Institute observe a novel state of matter that never thermalizes.
What happens if one mixes cold and hot water? After some initial dynamics, one is left with lukewarm water—the system has thermalized to a new thermal...
Physicists from Regensburg and Marburg, Germany have succeeded in taking a slow-motion movie of speeding electrons in a solid driven by a strong light wave. In the process, they have unraveled a novel quantum phenomenon, which will be reported in the forthcoming edition of Nature.
The advent of ever faster electronics featuring clock rates up to the multiple-gigahertz range has revolutionized our day-to-day life. Researchers and...
Researchers have developed an ultrafast light-emitting device that can flip on and off 90 billion times a second and could form the basis of optical computing.
Joint BioEnergy Institute study identifies bacterial protein that is key to protecting rice against bacterial blight
A bacterial signal that when recognized by rice plants enables the plants to resist a devastating blight disease has been identified by a multi-national team...
23.07.2015 | Event News
10.07.2015 | Event News
25.06.2015 | Event News
03.08.2015 | Earth Sciences
03.08.2015 | Life Sciences
03.08.2015 | Earth Sciences