Misconceptions about Asian elephant Elephas maximus ecological preferences drive key conservation interventions. These misconceptions need to be addressed to move towards effective elephant conservation and human–elephant conflict (HEC) mitigation strategies.
In a study published in Animal Conservation, an international team of researchers identified a high spatial overlap between Asian elephant (Elephas maximus) preferred habitats and the human-dominated landscapes where human–elephant conflicts (HEC) occur. Asian elephant preference for semi-disturbed habitats means that HEC is to be expected whenever we share landscapes.
The researchers used two independent and extensive datasets comprising elephant GPS telemetry and HEC incident reports to assess the relationship between elephant habitat preferences and the occurrence of HEC at a broad spatial scale in Peninsular Malaysia.
They found strong differences in habitat use between females and males and that the locations of HEC incidents were areas of very high habitat suitability for elephants, especially for females. HEC reports suggest that in Peninsular Malaysia females are involved in more crop damage conflicts than males, whereas males are more prone to direct encounters with people.
The results show that human-dominated landscapes are prime elephant habitat, and not merely marginal areas that elephants use in the absence of other options.
“To our best knowledge, this is the first evaluation of sexual differences in habitat use by Asian elephants. Both sexes preferred disturbed vegetation such as forest gaps, but always in close proximity to mature forest, and both sexes were attracted to areas near plantations (i.e. high human disturbance)”, said Dr. Ahimsa Campos-Arceiz of Xishuangbanna Tropical Botanical Garden( XTBG).
Ahimsa Campos-Arceiz Ph.D Principal Investigator
Center for Integrative Conservation, Xishuangbanna Tropical Botanical Garden, Chinese Academy of Sciences, Menglun, Mengla, Yunnan 666303, China