It’s like living in a gated community – even though there are no gates. You just feel better protected. Elephants in Africa are choosing, more and more, to stay within the boundaries of the Serengeti National Park, which suggests that they understand that the park area is freer of humans and that there’s likely to be less hunting within the park boundaries.
And this understanding may be all that stands between the elephants and their extinction in the wild within the next five or six years. (Yes, it’s now that bad.)
In a new study, scientists collected samples of elephant dung in the Serengeti National Park, in partially protected adjoining areas, and in the open areas beyond. They found that animals outside the national park had significantly higher levels of the stress hormone gluccorticoid.
They also found that more elephants are staying firmly in the park these days. And in the regions they studied, male elephants, who spend much of their time living alone, were not to be found outside the park at all.
“The reason is most probably that elephants try to avoid human-elephant interactions,” Norwegian research team member Dr. Eivin Roskaft told BBC Nature.
Elephants are known for their excellent memories, especially when it comes to where the watering holes and best grazing areas are as they travel hundreds of miles across the land. So they know where the safe areas are, too.
“Bad experiences stress them,” Dr. Roskaft said. “I think elephants know where they are safe or not. However, sometimes they also are tempted by nice food outside the park which attracts them to such areas.”
The purpose of the study is to help wildlife officers offer better protection to the elephants.
“The elephant population in Africa is presently declining at an alarming rate,” Dr. Roskaft said. “The world must find interest in it, if not there will be very few or no elephants in Africa in about five to six years.”