Understanding elephant-habitat relationships

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Understanding elephant-habitat relationships

Understanding elephant-habitat relationships

Wcs India Program   ¦    Ramki Sreenivasan/Conservation India   ¦   Nov 06, 2015 04:41:48 PM (IST)

Bengaluru: Reiterating need for scientific management of Indian protected areas, a new study by scientists of Wildlife Conservation Society India Program has demonstrated overarching importance to preserve natural systems over ad hoc interventions, to safeguard country’s wildlife. Recording preference of elephants for natural water bodies, the study cautions that practices like creating waterholes without research on impacts may in fact be counterproductive for conservation.

Understanding elephant-habitat relationships -1The research evaluated elephant distribution during dry season in Bandipur and Nagarahole National Parks and adjoining forests in the Western Ghats of Karnataka between December 2013 to March 2014. Correlating ecological factors including distance to rivers, stagnant water and vegetation to elephant distribution, the study drew inferences on elephant-habitat relationship.  

Despite presence of over 650 waterholes across the study area spanning 1850 sq km, the pachyderm distribution pattern was most strongly influenced by natural rivers and streams. With increasing distance to rivers, the probability of habitat use by elephants decreased.

The scientists observe that in Africa, intensive studies examining influence of artificial waterholes on elephants, resultant impacts on vegetation and on elephant population dynamics itself, have facilitated informed management. On the other hand, management practices followed in the 13 Asian elephant range states including India are largely ad hoc rather than science based.

Significant proportions of annual protected area budgets are spent in habitat management schemes in India including physical barriers to mitigate conflicts, creation of water and fodder reserves and eradication of invasive weed. A 2011 study had shown an allocation of 30% for habitat management interventions in Nagarahole and Bandipur, possibly reflecting a national trend. However, no study has examined how large herbivores like elephants and their habitats respond to such interventions.

“Given the scale and multitude of management interventions that take place in our wildlife reserves every year, scientific assessments of their usefulness have to be carried out prior to interventions so that only needed habitat management practices are implemented," suggest the authors of this study.

Evaluating the role of vegetation, the study found that probability of habitat use by elephants decreased with increasing change in the remotely sensed index (Normalized Difference Vegetation Index) used. This indicated obvious preference for habitats that stayed green during the dry field work season between December 2013 and March 2014. The authors however stress on ground-based measure of vegetation to avoid bias caused by invasive weed such as Lantana.

Titled ‘Determinants of dry season habitat use by Asian elephants in the Western Ghats of India’, the study was published in the international Journal of Zoology. The paper was authored by N. Lakshminarayanan, along with Dr. Krithi K. Karanth, Dr. Varun R. Goswami, S. Vaidyanathan and Dr. K. Ullas Karanth, with affiliations to WCS (New York and India), National Centre for Biological Sciences, Duke University, and Foundation of Ecological Research, Advocacy and Learning.

For more details, please contact Dr. Krithi K. Karanth at: krithi.karanth@gmail.com or 09900902041.

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Understanding elephant-habitat relationships
Understanding elephant-habitat relationships