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Ahlering M.A.,University of Missouri | Millspaugh J.J.,University of Missouri | Woods R.J.,University of Missouri | Western D.,African Conservation Center | Eggert L.S.,University of Missouri
Animal Conservation

Crop raiding is one of the most common forms of human-elephant conflict. Deterring elephants from raiding crops requires an understanding of the factors influencing the behavior of the individuals involved. We collected fecal samples from five group ranches in southern Kenya where crop-raiding incidents had occurred (n=10) and two protected areas, Amboseli National Park (n=24) and Maasai Mara National Reserve (n=20). We used molecular sexing to sex the individuals and radioimmunoassay kits to determine the level of glucocorticoid metabolites (i.e. stress hormones) in their dung. All crop-raiding individuals were male and had a significantly elevated concentration of glucocorticoid metabolites as compared with the Amboseli elephants (W=12, P=0.0005). We detected no significant difference between Maasai Mara elephants and either Amboseli or the crop-raiding elephants when just males were compared. Our results suggest that crop raiding may be related to stress in elephants. © 2010 The Authors. Animal Conservation © 2010 The Zoological Society of London. Source

Ahlering M.A.,University of Missouri | Ahlering M.A.,Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute | Ahlering M.A.,African Conservation Center | Maldonado J.E.,Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute | And 5 more authors.
Conservation Biology

Biodiversity conservation strategies are increasingly focused on regions outside national protected areas, where animals face numerous anthropogenic threats and must coexist with human settlements, livestock, and agriculture. The effects of these potential threats are not always clear, but they could have profound implications for population viability. We used savannah elephants (Loxodonta africana) as a case study to assess the physiological stress associated with living in a human-livestock-dominated landscape. We collected samples over two 3-month periods in 2007 and 2008. We used fecal DNA to identify 96 individual elephants in a community conservation area (CCA) and measured fecal glucocorticoid metabolite (FGM) concentrations as a proxy for stress. The CCA is community Maasai land managed for livestock and wildlife. We compared the FGM concentrations from the CCA to FGM concentrations of 40 elephants in Amboseli National Park and 32 elephants in the Maasai Mara National Reserve, where human settlements and intense livestock grazing were absent. In the CCA, we found no significant individual differences in FGM concentrations among the elephants in 2007 (p = 0.312) or 2008 (p = 0.412) and no difference between years (p = 0.616). The elephants in the CCA had similar FGM concentrations to the Maasai Mara population, but Amboseli elephants had significantly lower FGM concentrations than those in either Maasai Mara or the CCA (Tukey pairwise test, p < 0.001), due primarily to females excreting significantly lower FGM relative to males (p = 0.025). In the CCA, there was no relation among female group size, average pairwise group relatedness, and average group FGM concentration. We found no clear evidence of chronic stress in elephants living on CCA communal land, which is encouraging for conservation strategies promoting the protection of animals living outside protected areas. © 2013 Society for Conservation Biology No claim to original US government works. Source

Groom R.,University of Bristol | Groom R.,African Conservation Center | Harris S.,University of Bristol
African Journal of Ecology

Understanding the spatial dynamics of landscape use by free-ranging herbivores is integral for successful ecosystem management. We used binary logistic regression analyses to determine the relative importance of biotic, abiotic and human factors in influencing the distribution (presence/absence) of wild grazers on two Maasai ranches in Kenya's Amboseli-Tsavo ecosystem. Both ranches had low grass biomass and suffered from regular droughts. We found that grazers consistently located themselves where grass biomass was highest, usually irrespective of grass quality, suggesting that forage quantity may be the limiting factor where grass biomass is generally low. The availability of surface water had no significant effect on the likelihood of grazers being present, even in the dry season. © 2009 The Authors. Journal compilation © 2009 Blackwell Publishing Ltd. Source

Mose V.N.,African Conservation Center | Mose V.N.,University Pierre and Marie Curie | Nguyen-Huu T.,UMI 209 | Nguyen-Huu T.,University Pierre and Marie Curie | And 3 more authors.
Ecological Complexity

The recent expansion of human activities such as agriculture has continuously threatened to block wildlife migration corridors that connect Amboseli National Park (Kenya) to surrounding ecosystems. We study the impact of blocked corridors on herbivore populations using a spatial mathematical model that describes the movements and population dynamics of selected species (zebra, wildebeest and Grant's gazelle) based on resource availability. Aggregation methods are used to reduce the complexity of the model which uses actual parameters calibrated from long term data collected in the area for over three decades. The model suggests the need to maintain these connections to sustain species diversity. Our results show that blocked migration corridors lead to competitive exclusion where only one species survives. However, a possible mechanism of maintenance of biodiversity in the area could be due to an exchange of animals between the park and surrounding ecosystems, when the oscillations of species densities in the ecosystems are out of phase compared to each other and to those within the park. © 2012 Elsevier B.V. Source

Ahlering M.A.,University of Missouri | Ahlering M.A.,Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute | Ahlering M.A.,African Conservation Center | Maldonado J.E.,Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute | And 5 more authors.
Diversity and Distributions

Aim Dispersal is a critical component of animal ecology that is poorly understood for most species. In particular, savanna elephants (Loxodonta africana) have been studied for decades in national parks across Africa, but little is known about their dispersal into new or unused habitats or their population dynamics in human-dominated landscapes. We capitalized on a natural dispersal event of savanna elephants recolonizing communal land in southern Kenya to document their demographic characteristics and genetic relationships. Location Rift Valley province of Kenya. Methods We collected faecal samples and used genetic methods to identify individuals, estimate the sex ratio and evaluate the patterns of relatedness within the female groups and male aggregations. We also measured dung bolus circumference to assign age classes to individuals and estimate the age structure. Results We identified 112 individuals with a sex ratio not different from one (1.32:1.00). The age structure was skewed towards younger elephants (71%), suggesting the potential for rapid growth from reproduction. We detected significantly higher kinship levels within female groups (R=0.124±0.023), suggesting that family groups colonized the site, but found little support for higher-order genetic relationships among female groups. Males detected together were unrelated (R=0.003±0.030). Main conclusions Our results suggest that highly social mammals, such as savanna elephants, disperse into unoccupied habitat as family groups and that a young demographic structure and a large number of males might be expected in establishing populations. These findings highlight the potential value of indirect, non-invasive methods for assessing elephant herd and demographic characteristics when direct observations are difficult. © 2012 Blackwell Publishing Ltd. Source

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