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Physiological stress response of African elephants to wildlife tourism in Madikwe Game Reserve, South Africa

Szott, I, Pretorius, Y, Ganswindt, A and Koyama, NF Physiological stress response of African elephants to wildlife tourism in Madikwe Game Reserve, South Africa. Wildlife Research. ISSN 1035-3712 (Accepted)

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Abstract

Context: Wildlife tourism has been shown to increase stress in a variety of species and can negatively affect individuals’ survival, reproduction, welfare, and behaviour. In African elephants Loxodonta africana increased physiological stress has been linked to use of refugia, rapid movement through corridors, and heightened aggression towards humans. However, we are unaware of any studies assessing the impact of tourist pressure (tourist numbers) on physiological stress in elephants. Aims: We used faecal glucocorticoid metabolite (fGCM) concentrations to investigate whether tourist numbers in Madikwe Game Reserve, South Africa, were related to changes in physiological stress in elephants. Methods: We repeatedly collected dung samples (n=43) from 13 individually identified elephants over 15 months. Using a Generalised Linear Mixed Model and a Kenward-Roger approximation, we assessed the impact of monthly tourist numbers, season, age, and sex on elephant fGCM concentrations. Key results: High tourist numbers were significantly related to elevated fGCM concentrations. Overall, fGCM concentrations increased by 112% (from 0.26 to 0.55 µg/g dry weight) in the months with highest tourist pressure, compared to months with lowest tourist pressure. Conclusions: Managers of fenced reserves should consider providing potential alleviation measures for elephants during high tourist pressure, for example, by ensuring refuge areas are available. This may be of even higher importance if elephant populations have had traumatic experiences with humans in the past, such as poaching or translocation. Such management action will improve elephant welfare and increase tourist safety. Implications: Whilst tourism can generate substantial revenue to support conservation action, careful monitoring of its impact on wildlife is required to manage potential negative effects.

Item Type: Article
Uncontrolled Keywords: 05 Environmental Sciences, 06 Biological Sciences
Subjects: Q Science > QH Natural history > QH301 Biology
Q Science > QL Zoology
Divisions: Natural Sciences & Psychology (closed 31 Aug 19)
Publisher: CSIRO Publishing
Date Deposited: 30 Aug 2019 08:29
Last Modified: 30 Aug 2019 08:30
URI: http://researchonline.ljmu.ac.uk/id/eprint/11225

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