Human-elephant interactions and their social-economic impacts in mount Kenya and its surrounding areas
Kamweya, Abel Macharia
MetadataShow full item record
Human settlement and encroachment into natural forests has contracted elephant range, blocked migration corridors and confined elephants into smaller areas. Consequently, elephants have moved into plantation forests and forest-adjacent farms causing much damage, which has rendered landowners hostile towards elephants. Measures to resolve the conflict have generally failed. This study, conducted from January 1999 to May 2001, investigated the extent to which the human elephants conflict emanating from their interactions may threaten the fate of elephants, forests and people. The objectives were to determine the distribution of elephant conflict, assess peoples' attitudes to elephants and investigate the options of expanding elephant range in the study area. The dung count method estimated distribution of elephant densities. Data to assess the impact of human-elephant interactions on people, elephants and forests were collected using interview schedules, several vegetation sampling techniques and interpretation of satellite imageries of the study area. Human damage to forests resulted in mortality of about 10.8% of trees over an extensive area mainly by; 1) Felling of trees at similar levels in natural and plantation forests (Mann-Whitney test: U= 47.00, P = 0.192) but at different intensities between sampling sites (Kolmogorov-Smirnov Uniform test: Z=2.371, P<0.01), and 2) excisions of large forest areas from 1943 to 2001 (R2=0.862, F (1,10) = 62.61, P=0.0001). There was a strong relationship between the area of excised forests and human population density in the forest-adjacent areas between 1968 and 1998 (R2=0.996, P=0.041), and suggests that the increase in human population caused the decline in natural forest cover. The population of about 3,749 elephants in the study area remained unchanged throughout the course of this study at mean density of 1.76=1.74 SD elephants Km-2. This supports the idea that elephants were constrained inside Mt Kenya forests. However, there were differences in elephant’s densities between different sampling areas (Kolmogorov-Smirnov Uniforms test: Z=2.334, P<0.0001) but not between seasons (Mann-Whitney test: U=249.000, P=0. 421). The variation in the percent of damaged trees by elephants between different sampling sites was significant (Kolmogorov-Smirnov Uniform test: Z=2.114, P=0.0003). Elephant damaged 28.6% of trees mainly by debarking (11.6%), which caused mortality of 6.8% of the trees. The proportion of damaged trees by elephants in natural and plantation forests were similar (Mann-Whitney test: U=72.00, P=0.744). The damage to natural forests was not considered as destructive to the system. Conversely, elephants damage to plantation forests caused a significant (14.1%) loss of economic value of timber (t=5.88,df=62, P<0.0001). Thus, elephants in plantation forests are economically unacceptable. Strong predictors of elephant damage to forests and farms were identified and discussed. Overall, the level of elephant damage to farms, which was mainly by crop raiding, was generally low but with significant variations between different areas (Kruskal-Wallis ANOVA: H= 53.76,df=10,p=0.0001), and its level was influenced by the frequency of occurrence of the crops (r=0.982,P=0<0.01). About 60.9% (n=463) of the local community indicated a liking for presence of elephants in the study area, but not on their farms, citing damage to property and human deaths and injuries caused by elephants as the main reasons. Results suggest that there were opportunities available that could be exploited to improve peoples' attitudes and participation in conservation of elephants and forests. This study has demonstrated that continued loss of forest cover coupled with loss of migration paths threaten the fate of elephants and forest in Mt Kenya. The conflicts between human and elephants over the use of forests might worsen unless effective interventions are taken. The challenge to conserve elephants in circumstances of intense competition with people for limited forestland will involve a balanced mix of ideas that address the needs of both the local people and elephants. The options that could be applied to resolve the conflicts for promotion of the lifestyle of the people living with elephants, the elephants and their forest habitats are discussed.