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The impact of wildlife tourism on African elephants, Loxodonta africana, in South Africa

Szott, I (2020) The impact of wildlife tourism on African elephants, Loxodonta africana, in South Africa. Doctoral thesis, Liverpool John Moores University.

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Wildlife tourism may aid in the protection of species and habitat and contributes to countries’ economies. However, wildlife tourism has also been identified as a potential stressor in many species, affecting individuals’ survival, reproduction, welfare, and behaviour. We can investigate whether something elicits a stress response in an individual by studying its behaviour, movement, and faecal glucocorticoid concentrations. African elephants, Loxodonta africana, are mega-herbivores threatened by poaching and habitat loss. Simultaneously, they are iconic animals which tourists are keen to observe in their natural habitat. Nevertheless, studies assessing wildlife tourism impacts on African elephants are scarce. I studied a population of approximately 1200 free-ranging elephants in Madikwe Game Reserve, South Africa, over a period of 15 months from April 2016 to June 2017. I investigated whether wildlife tourism affected elephants’ faecal glucocorticoid metabolite (fGCM) concentrations, vigilance or aggressive behaviour, or the direction of herd movement in relation to tourist vehicles present. I further investigated whether wildlife tourism impacted on elephant space use, in the form of home range size and journey length. Wildlife tourism was either defined as tourist pressure (the total number of tourists in Madikwe per month), or as immediate tourist presence (in form of number of game drive vehicles present during an observation). I used a mixed model approach, controlling for age, sex, habitat and herd type (such as lone males, bull, cow-calf or mixed groups), as well as a proxy of plant productivity, season, temperature, and time of day throughout those analyses. High tourist pressure was significantly related to increased fGCM concentrations. Elephants were more likely to display conspecific-directed aggression during times of high tourist pressure. During game drive vehicle presence, the likelihood of elephant herds moving away from vehicles increased with increasing numbers of vehicles present. Elephants’ home range size and journey length were not affected by wildlife tourism. The results presented in this thesis suggest that wildlife tourism is a stressor for free-ranging elephants in fenced reserves. I present management recommendations to improve elephant welfare and increase tourist safety: to introduce a maximum speed of approach and minimum distance between vehicles and elephants, as well as establishment of an area with limited tourist activity.

Item Type: Thesis (Doctoral)
Uncontrolled Keywords: African elephant; eco-tourism; conservation; stress; animal welfare; game drive; wildlife viewing; faeces; stress endocrinology; physiology; wildlife management; wildlife tourism
Subjects: G Geography. Anthropology. Recreation > GE Environmental Sciences
Q Science > QH Natural history
Q Science > QH Natural history > QH301 Biology
Q Science > QL Zoology
G Geography. Anthropology. Recreation > G Geography (General) > G149 Travel. Voyages and travels (General) > G154.9 Travel and state. Tourism
Divisions: Biological & Environmental Sciences (from Sep 19)
Date Deposited: 20 Oct 2020 12:53
Last Modified: 07 Sep 2022 13:58
DOI or ID number: 10.24377/LJMU.t.00013816
Supervisors: Koyama, N, Wich, S and Engelhardt, A
URI: https://researchonline.ljmu.ac.uk/id/eprint/13816
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