Date of Award

2019

Document Type

Honors Thesis (Open Access)

Department

Colby College. Environmental Studies Program

Advisor(s)

Dr. Philip Nyhus

Abstract

African savannah elephants (Loxodonta africana), the largest elephant species, influence the structure of the environment they inhabit. Elephants exhibit complex patterns of social behavior between individuals within a population. Many behavioral studies focus on interactions among individuals within a population rather than broader trends related to group size. My study seeks to understand how male African savannah elephant group size is influenced by seasonality, age, physical condition and distance to permanent water resources. I examined the interaction of these variables in two ways: (1) a literature review of elephant behavior and conservation, and (2) an analysis of male behavior using data collected by the non-profit Elephants for Africa (EfA) in the western Makgadikgadi Pans National Park, Botswana. I used ArcGIS to extract distance from water for each observation and R to conduct parametric and non-parametric tests to evaluate the relationship between season, age, physical condition, and distance to permanent water sources. Major findings of this study include the greater independence (p = 0.001) and physical conditions of older males, as well as increased proportions of older males in the dry season, and better physical conditions in the wet season due to seasonal resource availability. These results are consistent with other studies that find young males to be more sociable and dependent on quality resources. My findings provide insight into the patterns of age, physical condition and resource availability related to seasonality which are useful in developing management strategies around water and forage across seasons to mitigate human-wildlife conflict.

Keywords

African Savannah Elephant, Behavior, Sociality, Group Size

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