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Finding Space for Elephants

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Reuling, Mary Mariam Margaret
Kenya; Shimba Hills National Reserve; Elephants
Shimba Hills National Reserve (SHNR) in coastal Kenya is well known for it great biological diversity and large resident elephant population. However, there is concern that high rates of land use/land cover change (LULCC) around the reserve, combined with ecosystem destruction caused by the growing elephant population, have resulted in severe environmental degradation and loss of endemic species. Additionally, many elephants have developed a daily habit of searching for food outside of the reserve boundary, leading to high levels of human-elephant conflict. An electric fence was erected around the reserve in an effort to mitigate this conflict, but continuing reports of crop damage indicate the ineffectiveness of the fence in entirely preventing elephants from raiding crops around the reserve. This research project integrates air photo analysis and interviews with local residents to determine the rates of deforestation and agricultural expansion during the 1900s and the socioecological factors driving local perceptions of elephant threat. The analysis is based on visual interpretation of LULCC from a temporal series of aerial photos from 1991 and 1999 and interviews conducted around Shimba Hills National Reserve in 2005 and 2006. The integration of household interviews with remotely sensed LULCC data greatly improves our understanding of the processes of land use patterns and local vulnerability. The results of the air photo analysis demonstrate a strong link between deforestation and agricultural expansion around SHNR. Dense forest cover decreased over 50%, from 31% in 1991 to 15% in 1999 while agriculture increased from 38% in 1991 to 54% in 1999. The analysis demonstrates how these two LULC categories are inextricably intertwined. Overall, the amount of bushland, open space, and developed land remained largely unchanged. The study found the four most significant socioecological factors influencing local perceptions of elephant threat were: 1) proximity to the reserve, 2) cultivation of cassava, 3) cultivation of coconuts, and 4) the ethnicity of the respondent. These variables were the strongest predictors of perceived conflict with elephants when multiple variables were included in the same statistical model. Local residents? perception of risk plays a major role in determining coping mechanisms and attitudes towards conservation programs. The results from this study demonstrate factors that shape vulnerability to elephant raiding around SHNR which is advantageous in the development of successful, long-term conflict mitigation strategies.
Includes Figures, Maps, Photographs, Appendix and Bibliography.
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