Coexistence between people and elephants in African savannas
The decline in the range and numbers of elephants as a result of expanding human activity in Africa is recognized as one of the continent's more serious conservation problems. Understanding the relationship between human settlement patterns and elephant abundance is fundamental to predicting the viability of elephant populations. The prevailing model of human-elephant interaction predicts a negative linear relationship between rising human density and declining elephant density at a coarse (national or subcontinental) scale. Using observed elephant densities and human population data, we tested this prediction in a study area of 15,000 km2 in northwestern Zimbabwe. The results did not fit a linear model. Elephant and human coexistence occurs at various levels of human density, up to a threshold of human density beyond which elephant populations disappear. This threshold seems to be related to a particular stage in the process of agriculturally transformed land becoming spatially dominant over the natural woodland that constitutes elephant habitat. Within the contexts of conservation and sustainable development in African savannas, investigating spatial relationships between elephant and human abundance should be a priority topic for future research.
Hoare, R.E. & du Toit, J.T. 1999. Coexistence between people and elephants in African savannas. Conservation Biology, 13(3):1-7.