Elephants and heterogeneity in savanna landscapes

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Elephants and Savanna Woodland Ecosystems: A Study from Chobe National Park, Botswana


C. Skarpe, J.T. du Toit, S.R. Moe


Wiley-Blackwell and the Zoological Society of London, Chichester, UK

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This chapter reviews a body of evidence from Chobe and savannas elsewhere in Africa that indicates how elephant populations can both generate, and be regulated by, heterogeneity at the landscape scale. Elephants are water-dependent, needing to drink at intervals of no more than 3 days. Visits to water involve social interactions, wallowing, and play behaviour that result in herds congregating near water for longer than simply to drink. The mean home range area of elephant breeding herds in southern Africa is 1678 km2 and the maximum is 10,738 km2, which indicates the spatial scale of elephant population ecology. Although the striking spectacle of elephant ‘damage’ to woody vegetation in a transition zone might worry stakeholders and tourists it does not necessarily indicate damage to regional biodiversity and ecosystem processes. For elephant populations occurring at or near saturation density transition zones could be part of a mechanism of population regulation.