Forest elephant movement and habitat use in a tropical forest-grassland mosaic in Gabon.
Poaching of forest elephants (Loxodonta cyclotis) for ivory has decimated their populations in Central Africa. Studying elephant movement can provide insight into habitat and resource use to reveal where, when, and why they move and guide conservation efforts. We fitted 17 forest elephants with global positioning system (GPS) collars in 2015 and 2016 in the tropical forest-grassland mosaic of the Wonga Wongué Presidential Reserve (WW), Gabon. Using the location data, we quantified movement distances, home ranges, and habitat use to examine the environmental drivers of elephant movements and predict where elephants occur spatially and temporally. Forest elephants, on average, traveled 2,840 km annually and had home ranges of 713 km2, with males covering significantly larger home ranges than females. Forest elephants demonstrated both daily and seasonal movement patterns. Daily, they moved between forest and grassland at dawn and dusk. Seasonally, they spent proportionally more time in grassland than forest during the short-wet season when grasses recruit. Forest elephants also traveled faster during the short-wet season when fruit availability was greatest, likely reflecting long, direct movements to preferred fruiting tree species. Forest elephants tended to select areas with high tree and shrub density that afford cover and browse. When villages occurred in their home ranges elephants spent a disproportionate amount of time near them, particularly in the dry season, probably for access to agricultural crops and preferred habitat. Given the importance of the grassland habitat for elephants, maintenance of the forest-grassland matrix is a conservation priority in WW. Law enforcement, outreach, and education should focus on areas of potential human-elephant conflict near villages along the borders of the reserve. GPS-tracking should be extended into multi-use areas in the peripheries of protected areas to evaluate the effects of human disturbance on elephant movements and to maintain connectivity among elephant populations in Gabon.
Mills, EC; Poulsen, JR; Fay, JM; Morkel, P; Clark, CJ; Meier, A; Beirne, C; White, LJT
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