A new study conducted by Mara Elephant Project’s partner, Save The Elephants (STE), along with the University of Twente shows that elephants in poaching hotspot areas have learned to move around more at night turning to feeding and traveling over sleeping.
“This study shows the adaptability of earth’s largest land mammal to adapt their behavior flexibly in order to stay safe. This alteration in movement behavior by elephants has implications for their foraging strategy, reproduction and survival, which are not yet fully understood.” Save The Elephants’ founder Iain Douglas-Hamilton.
The lead STE scientist, Festus Ihwagi, took the movements from STE’s GPS collars and divided them into daytime and nighttime speeds. Meanwhile, the risk landscape was evaluated using data from the Monitoring of Illegal Killing of Elephants program that is run by the Kenya Wildlife Service in partnership with local organizations including Save the Elephants.
What they found was that elephants in high-level poaching areas become more active at night, feeding and travelling more than during the day. Additionally, at the height of the poaching crisis in Northern Kenya (2010 – 2012), the night-day speed ratio of elephants increased significantly with the increase in poaching levels and both male and female elephants moved more at night than during the day when poaching levels were high. This change in elephant behavior has potential long-term implications for the survival of elephants which normally rest at night and are more active during the day.
“Simultaneous elephant tracking and monitoring of causes of death presented a perfect natural laboratory for studying the behavioral response of elephants to increasing poaching levels. The escalation of poaching has become the greatest immediate threat to the survival of elephants. As most poaching occurs during the daytime, their transition to nocturnal behavior appears to be a direct result of the prevailing poaching levels.” Festus Ihwagi
Elephants in dangerous areas move more at night than those in safer areas, suggesting that poaching pressure, as opposed to other factors such as seasonal changes, are causing elephants to change their behavior.
This study shows why it’s vital that MEP rangers receive the proper tools they need to work at night. MEP’s Karen Blixen Camp Ree Park Safari helicopter cannot operate at night so during crop raids at night it’s essential MEP rangers have tools from MEP’s Amazon Wish List. Tools like night vision goggles and easily chargeable flashlights are essential to their quick and safe response at night.