Skip to main content Accessibility help

Finding pathways to human–elephant coexistence: a risky business

  • Anna Songhurst (a1), Graham McCulloch (a1) and Tim Coulson (a2)


Finding ways for people and wildlife to coexist requires affording both parties access to critical resources and space, but also a behavioural change by both to avoid conflict. We investigated pathway use in a population of free-ranging African elephants Loxodonta africana in the Okavango Panhandle, Botswana that share their range with humans in a multi-use, heterogeneous landscape. We used detailed ground surveys to identify and map elephant movement pathways, and mixed-effect models to explore factors influencing elephant numbers and movement behaviour on and around these pathways. We found deviation in pathway use among the elephant population, suggesting behavioural adaptations to avoid human-associated risk: avoiding pathways near settlements, particularly near larger settlements; avoiding pathways close to cultivated land; and adopting a safety-in-numbers strategy when moving through areas of human use. Our findings suggest there is opportunity to capitalize on risk avoidance by elephant populations, to minimize resource-use overlap and reduce conflict between humans and elephants. We discuss a strategy that involves ensuring appropriate protection of elephant pathways in land-use planning, using development-free buffer zones, combined with mitigation techniques along the interface with agricultural lands to increase risk levels and reinforce human–elephant interface boundaries. We recommend further examination of the use of landscape-level mitigation techniques that encourage elephants to use pathways away from human activity and help define spatial boundaries for management of human–elephant conflict in multi-use landscapes.

  • View HTML
    • Send article to Kindle

      To send this article to your Kindle, first ensure is added to your Approved Personal Document E-mail List under your Personal Document Settings on the Manage Your Content and Devices page of your Amazon account. Then enter the ‘name’ part of your Kindle email address below. Find out more about sending to your Kindle. Find out more about sending to your Kindle.

      Note you can select to send to either the or variations. ‘’ emails are free but can only be sent to your device when it is connected to wi-fi. ‘’ emails can be delivered even when you are not connected to wi-fi, but note that service fees apply.

      Find out more about the Kindle Personal Document Service.

      Finding pathways to human–elephant coexistence: a risky business
      Available formats

      Send article to Dropbox

      To send this article to your Dropbox account, please select one or more formats and confirm that you agree to abide by our usage policies. If this is the first time you use this feature, you will be asked to authorise Cambridge Core to connect with your <service> account. Find out more about sending content to Dropbox.

      Finding pathways to human–elephant coexistence: a risky business
      Available formats

      Send article to Google Drive

      To send this article to your Google Drive account, please select one or more formats and confirm that you agree to abide by our usage policies. If this is the first time you use this feature, you will be asked to authorise Cambridge Core to connect with your <service> account. Find out more about sending content to Google Drive.

      Finding pathways to human–elephant coexistence: a risky business
      Available formats


Corresponding author

(Corresponding author) E-mail


Hide All
Albertson, A. (1998) Northern Botswana Veterinary Fences: Critical Ecological Impacts. Unpublished report.
Balasubramanian, M., Bhaskaran, N., Swaminathan, S. & Desai, A. (1995) Crop raiding by Asian elephants (Elephas maximus) in the Nilgiri Biosphere reserve, South India. In A Week with Elephants (eds Daniel, J. & Datye, H.), pp. 350369. Bombay Natural History Society, Bombay, India.
Blake, S. & Inkamba-Nkulu, C. (2004) Fruit, minerals, and forest elephant trails: do all roads lead to Rome? Biotropica, 36, 392401.
Burnham, K.P. & Anderson, D.R. (2002) Model Selection and Multimodel Inference: A Practical Information-Theoretic Approach. Springer, New York, USA.
Chamaillé-Jammes, S., Valeix, M. & Fritz, H. (2007) Managing heterogeneity in elephant distribution: interactions between elephant population density and surface-water availability. Journal of Applied Ecology, 44, 625633.
Chiyo, P.I. & Cochrane, E.P. (2005) Population structure and behaviour of crop-raiding elephants in Kibale National Park, Uganda. African Journal of Ecology, 43, 233241.
Chiyo, P.I., Cochrane, E.P., Naughton, L. & Basuta, G.I. (2005) Temporal patterns of crop raiding by elephants: a response to changes in forage quality or crop availability? African Journal of Ecology, 43, 4855.
Conover, M.R. (2002) Resolving Human–wildlife Conflicts: The Science of Wildlife Damage Management. CRC Press, Boca Raton, USA.
Crawley, M. (2007) The R Book. Wiley, Chichester, UK.
CSO (Central Statistics Office) (2011) 2011 Botswana Population and Housing Census. Central Statistics Office, Government of Botswana, Gaborone, Botswana.
Douglas-Hamilton, I., Krink, T. & Vollrath, F. (2005) Movements and corridors of African elephants in relation to protected areas. Naturwissenschaften, 92, 158163.
Fernando, P., Wikramanayake, E., Weerakoon, D., Jayasinghe, L.K.A., Gunawardene, M. & Janaka, H.K. (2005) Perceptions and patterns of human–elephant conflict in old and new settlements in Sri Lanka: insights for mitigation and management. Biodiversity and Conservation, 14, 24652481.
Galanti, V., Preatoni, D., Martinoli, A., Wauters, L.A. & Tosi, G. (2006) Space and habitat use of the African elephant in the Tarangire–Manyara ecosystem, Tanzania: implications for conservation. Mammalian Biology, 71, 99114.
Graham, M.D., Douglas-Hamilton, I., Adams, W.M. & Lee, P.C. (2009) The movement of African elephants in a human-dominated land-use mosaic. Animal Conservation, 12, 445455.
Graham, M.D., Notter, B., Adams, W.M., Lee, P.C. & Ochieng, T.N. (2010) Patterns of crop-raiding by elephants, Loxodonta africana, in Laikipia, Kenya, and the management of human–elephant conflict. Systematics and Biodiversity, 8, 435445.
Guerbois, C., Chapanda, E. & Fritz, H. (2012) Combining multi-scale socio-ecological approaches to understand the susceptibility of subsistence farmers to elephant crop raiding on the edge of a protected area. Journal of Applied Ecology, 49, 11491158.
Hamilton, W.D. (1971) Geometry for the selfish herd. Journal of Theoretical Biology, 31, 295311.
Hanks, J. (1979) A Struggle for Survival: The Elephant Problem. Country Life Books, London, UK.
Happold, D.C.D. (1995) The interactions between humans and mammals in Africa in relation to conservation: a review. Biodiversity and Conservation, 4, 395414.
Hedges, S. & Gunaryadi, D. (2010) Reducing human–elephant conflict: do chillies help deter elephants from entering crop fields? Oryx, 44, 139146.
Hoare, R.E. (1999) Determinants of human–elephant conflict in a land-use mosaic. Journal of Applied Ecology, 36, 689700.
Hoare, R.E. & du Toit, J.T. (1999) Coexistence between people and elephants in African savannas. Conservation Biology, 13, 633639.
Hurlbert, S.H. (1990) Spatial distribution of the montane unicorn. Oikos, 58, 257271.
Jackson, T.P., Mosojane, S., Ferreira, S.M. & van Aarde, R.J. (2008) Solutions for elephant Loxodonta africana crop raiding in northern Botswana: moving away from symptomatic approaches. Oryx, 42, 8391.
King, L.E., Douglas-Hamilton, I. & Vollrath, F. (2011) Beehive fences as effective deterrents for crop-raiding elephants: field trails in northern Kenya. African Journal of Ecology, 49, 431439.
Laundré, J.W., Hernández, L. & Ripple, W.J. (2010) The landscape of fear: ecological implications of being afraid. The Open Ecology Journal, 3, 17.
Lee, P.C. & Moss, C.J. (1995) Statural growth in known-age African elephants (Loxodonta africana). Journal of Zoology, 236, 2941.
Linkie, M., Dinata, Y., Nofrianto, A. & Leader-Williams, N. (2007) Patterns and perceptions of wildlife crop raiding in and around Kerinci Seblat National Park, Sumatra. Animal Conservation, 10, 127135.
Linnell, J.D.C., Nilsen, E.B., Lande, U.S., Herfindal, I., Odden, J., Skogen, K. et al. (2005) Zoning as a means of mitigating conflicts with large carnivores: principles and reality. In People and Wildlife: Conflict or Coexistence? (eds Woodroffe, R., Thirgood, S. & Rabinowitz, A.), pp. 162175. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, UK.
Loarie, S.R., van Aarde, R.J. & Pimm, S.L. (2009) Elephant seasonal vegetation preferences across dry and wet savannas. Biological Conservation, 142, 30993107.
Martin, J., Basille, M., Moorter, B.V., Kindberg, J., Allainé, D. & Swenson, J.E. (2010) Coping with human disturbance: spatial and temporal tactics of the brown bear (Ursus arctos). Canadian Journal of Zoology, 88, 875883.
Moss, C.J. (2001) The demography of an African elephant (Loxodonta africana) population in Amboseli, Kenya. Journal of Zoology, 255, 145156.
Moss, C.J. & Poole, J.H. (1983) Relationships and social structure in African elephants. In Primate Social Relationships (ed. Hinde, R.A.), pp. 315325. Blackwell Scientific Publications, Oxford, UK.
Murwira, A. & Skidmore, A.K. (2005) The response of elephants to the spatial heterogeneity of vegetation in a Southern African agricultural landscape. Landscape Ecology, 20, 217234.
Naughton-Treves, L. (1998) Predicting patterns of crop damage by wildlife around Kibale National Park, Uganda. Conservation Biology, 12, 156168.
Noss, R.F., Quigley, H.B., Hornocker, M.G., Merrill, T. & Paquet, P.C. (1996) Conservation biology and carnivore conservation in the Rocky Mountains. Conservation Biology, 10, 949963.
ODMP (2002) Okavango Delta Management Plan. Government of Botswana, Maun, Botswana.
Osborn, F.V. (1998) Ecology of crop raiding elephants. Pachyderm, 25, 39.
Osborn, F.V. (2002) Capsicum oleoresin as an elephant repellent: field trials in the communal lands of Zimbabwe. The Journal of Wildlife Management, 66, 674677.
Osborn, F.V. & Parker, G.E. (2003) Linking two elephant refuges with a corridor in the communal lands of Zimbabwe. African Journal of Ecology, 41, 6874.
Parker, I.S.C. & Graham, A.D. (1989) Men, elephants and competition. Symposium of the Zoological Society of London, 61, 241252.
Pinheiro, J.C. & Bates, D.M. (2000) Mixed-Effects Models in S and S-PLUS. Springer Verlag, New York, USA.
R Development Core Team (2010) R: A Language and Environment for Statistical Computing. R Foundation for Statistical Computing, Vienna, Austria.
Redfern, J.V., Grant, R., Biggs, H. & Getz, W.M. (2003) Surface-water constraints on herbivore foraging in the Kruger National Park, South Africa. Ecology, 84, 20922107.
Schoenfeld, W.N. (1969) “Avoidance” in behaviour theory. Journal of the Experimental Analysis of Behavior, 12, 669674.
Sitati, N.W. & Walpole, M.J. (2006) Assessing farm-based measures for mitigating human–elephant conflict in Transmara District, Kenya. Oryx, 40, 279286.
Sitati, N.W., Walpole, M.J., Smith, R.J. & Leader-Williams, N. (2003) Predicting spatial aspects of human–elephant conflict. Journal of Applied Ecology, 40, 667677.
Songhurst, A. (2012) Competition between people and elephants in the Okavango Delta Panhandle, Botswana. PhD thesis. Imperial College, London, UK.
Songhurst, A. & Coulson, T. (2014) Exploring the effects of spatial autocorrelation when identifying key drivers of wildlife crop-raiding. Ecology and Evolution, 4, 582593.
Stander, P., Ghau, , Tsisaba, D., Oma, & Ui, (1997) Tracking and the interpretation of spoor: a scientifically sound method in ecology. Journal of Zoology, 242, 329341.
Stokke, S. (1999) Sex differences in feeding-patch choice in a megaherbivore: elephants in Chobe National Park, Botswana. Canadian Journal of Zoology, 77, 17231732.
Sukumar, R. (1989) Ecology of the Asian elephant in southern India. I. Movement and habitat utilization patterns. Journal of Tropical Ecology, 5, 118.
Sukumar, R. (1991) The management of large mammals in relation to male strategies and conflict with people. Biological Conservation, 55, 93102.
Viljoen, P.J. & Bothma, J.D. (1990) Daily movements of desert-dwelling elephants in the northern Namib Desert. South African Journal of Wildlife Research, 20, 6972.
Von Gerhardt, K., Van Niekerk, A., Kidd, M., Samways, M. & Hanks, J. (2014) The role of elephant Loxodonta africana pathways as a spatial variable in crop-raiding location. Oryx, 48, 436444.
Weaver, J.L., Paquet, P.C. & Ruggiero, L.F. (1996) Resilience and conservation of large carnivores in the Rocky Mountains. Conservation Biology, 10, 964976.
Western, D., Moss, C.J. & Georgiadis, N. (1983) Age estimation and population age structure of elephants: from footprint dimensions. The Journal of Wildlife Management, 47, 11921197.
Whitehouse, A.M. & Hall-Martin, A.J. (2000) Elephants in Addo Elephant National Park, South Africa: reconstruction of the population's history. Oryx, 34, 4655.
Whittingham, M.J., Stephens, P.A., Bradbury, R.B. & Freckleton, R.P. (2006) Why do we still use stepwise modelling in ecology and behaviour? Journal of Animal Ecology, 75, 11821189.
Wittemyer, G., Getz, W.M., Vollrath, F. & Douglas-Hamilton, I. (2007) Social dominance, seasonal movements, and spatial segregation in African elephants: a contribution to conservation behavior. Behavioral Ecology and Sociobiology, 61, 19191931.
Young, K.D., Ferreira, S.M. & van Aarde, R.J. (2009) Elephant spatial use in wet and dry savannas of southern Africa. Journal of Zoology, 278, 189205.
Recommend this journal

Email your librarian or administrator to recommend adding this journal to your organisation's collection.

  • ISSN: 0030-6053
  • EISSN: 1365-3008
  • URL: /core/journals/oryx
Please enter your name
Please enter a valid email address
Who would you like to send this to? *



Altmetric attention score

Full text views

Total number of HTML views: 0
Total number of PDF views: 0 *
Loading metrics...

Abstract views

Total abstract views: 0 *
Loading metrics...

* Views captured on Cambridge Core between <date>. This data will be updated every 24 hours.

Usage data cannot currently be displayed