Male Elephant Social Dynamics: a Comparison of Sociality During High and Low Poaching Impact
My study will emphasise the importance of the human environment in understanding the behavioural ecology and the demography of African savannah elephants (Loxodonta africana). I will do this by comparing populations with high rates of illegal hunting and those with low rates of legal hunting. This is urgent and vital research for conservation, because current population declines are heterogeneous across the savannah elephant range, and our understanding of population-level demographic and social patterns is essential to effective conservation and management strategies. It will also reveal new information about male social behaviour by determining how networks are restructured following the removal of older bulls with large tusks.
My aim during the Fellowship is to conduct both demographic and dynamic social network analyses to investigate the changes in male elephant survival and sociality over time. I am very fortunate to be able to access longitudinal data from two sites in order to do this. My project will involve determining the age and sex structure of the populations concerned using long-term datasets and mapping the social networks of male elephants over time. I will use data from a long-term study in the greater Kruger Biosphere, South Africa, conducted since 2003. I will then compare its structure to that in Samburu National Reserve, Kenya, which has experienced heavy losses as a result of poaching (25% of the population was poached between 2009 and 2012). All data has been collected from the field, including from my own trips in 2015 and 2016.
I will continue to write blogs for wider audiences and communicate results to managers, rangers and conservationists working at the demand and supply ends of the ivory trade. This research may also be of relevance to Fellows at the Wissenschaftskolleg with interests in sociality, the illegal wildlife trade, male reproductive and social strategies and interdisciplinary research linking basic and applied ecology.
Chapman, S. N., Mumby, H. S., Crawley, J. A. H., Mar, K. U., Htut, W., Thura Soe, A., Aung, H. H., and Lummaa, V. (2016). "How big is it really? Assessing the efficacy of indirect estimates of body size in Asian elephants." PLOS ONE 11, 3: e0150533. doi: 10.1371/journal. pone.0150533.
Mumby, H. S., Chapman, S. N., Crawley, J. A. H., Mar, K. U., Htut, W., Thura Soe, A., Aung, H. H., and Lummaa, V. (2015). "Distinguishing between determinate and indeterminate growth in a long-lived mammal." BMC Evolutionary Biology 15: 214.
Mumby, H. S., Mar, K. U., Hayward, A. D., Htut, W., Htut-Aung, Y., and Lummaa, V. (2015). "Elephants born in the high stress season have faster reproductive ageing." Scientific Reports 5: 13946.