While elephant populations are declining at unprecedented rates in Africa due to their illegal slaughter, many populations of the animal on the continent are stable or increasing, research by a UKZN team has revealed.
According to a new paper by the researchers (https://peerj.com/articles/2581), this could be due partly to the benefits local people generate from nature-based tourism.
The team of researchers from UKZN’s Amarula Elephant Research led by Dr Jeanetta Selier of the South African National Biodiversity Institute, analysed which factors affected elephant numbers in the Greater Mapungubwe Transfrontier Conservation Area - spanning South Africa, Zimbabwe and Botswana - between 2007 and 2014.
The researchers found that elephant numbers were limited by the increasing human population and expanding agricultural land but were positively correlated with the increasing number of tourists visiting the country.
‘Our results highlight that an increase in human population, coupled with the need to produce more food, will affect elephant numbers even more negatively in the future,’ said Selier.
‘If this happens in southern Africa, where elephant populations are currently doing much better compared to the rest of the continent, then the picture is grim.’
‘With the increasing demand for land for human settlement and agriculture, co-ordinated legislation and policies across national boundaries are needed to improve long-term land use planning,’ said Director of the Amarula Elephant Research Programme, Professor Rob Slotow. ‘This will ensure the survival of the elephant.’
‘Local communities often pay the costs of elephant conservation without tangible benefits,’ said co-author of the paper, Dr Enrico Di Minin. ‘Making sure the benefits generated from nature-based tourism, such as ecotourism safaris, are shared with communities who co-exist with elephants remains crucial to ensure the long-term persistence of this iconic species.’