Wild Animals have their own habitats and they prefer not to leave their surroundings. Likewise, what about Asian elephants? Where do they prefer to stay? A new study shows that Asian elephants prefer habitats on the periphery of protected areas, rather than the areas themselves.
Published in the British Ecological Society’s Journal of Applied Ecology, the researchers analysed the movement and habitat preferences of 102 Asian elephants in Peninsular Malaysia and Borneo, recording over 6,00,000 GPS locations. In the study, the researchers found that majority of elephants spent more than half of their time outside of protected areas, preferring slightly disturbed forests and areas of regrowth.
However, protected areas still played an important role, with the elephants’ biggest preference being for areas within three kilometres of protected area boundaries.
ARE THEY RELATED TO FOOD HABITATS?
The elephants are likely to prefer disturbed forest is related to food habits. They like to eat grasses, bamboo, palms and fast-growing trees, which are common in disturbed environments, but relatively scarce under the canopy of old-growth forests.
Dr Ahimsa Campos-Arceiz from Xishuangbanna Tropical Botanical Garden and the University of Nottingham in Malaysia, and one of the lead authors of the study said: “Our results show that protected areas are very important, but not enough as an overall strategy for Asian elephant conservation.
“Given their preference for habitats outside the protected areas, elephants will inevitably come into conflict with people. This highlights the importance of promoting human-elephant coexistence around protected areas.”
STUDY NOT DIMINISH IMPORTANCE OF PROTECTED AREAS
The authors make clear that their findings do not diminish the importance of protected areas. Dr Benoit Goossens from Danau Girang Field Centre and Cardiff University, another lead author said: “We believe protected areas are the most effective tool for biodiversity conservation in general. In the case of Asian elephants, protected areas provide long-term safety and represent the core areas for elephant conservation.
“Our results show that elephant conservation strategies need to be realistic and acknowledge the nuances of elephant habitat needs and preferences, integrating holistic human-elephant coexistence approaches outside protected areas.”
Based on their findings, they came up with three key recommendations for Asian elephant sconservation:
- Include large protected areas with core areas where elephants can find safety
- Incorporate ecological corridors to connect networks of protected areas
- Mitigate against human-elephant conflict, especially around protected areas, with emphasis on protecting people’s safety and livelihoods, as well as promoting tolerance towards elephant presence.
SUNDAIC REGION, A HOT SPOT FOR BIODIVERSITY
The Sundaic region, where the research took place, is a global hotspot for biodiversity. However, it is estimated that only 50% of the region’s original forest remains and less of 10% of it is formally protected. Asian elephants are endangered and live in highly fragmented landscapes in this region.
Because of the extensive home ranges of Asian elephants, they can often find themselves in human dominated landscapes, which inevitably leads to human-elephant conflict.
In the study, the authors only included protected areas listed in the World Database of Protected Areas in their analysis. They did not include exploited forest reserves which are used for logging.