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Conserv Biol. 2013 Jun;27(3):569-75. doi: 10.1111/cobi.12061.

Conservation outside protected areas and the effect of human-dominated landscapes on stress hormones in Savannah elephants.

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  • 1Division of Biological Sciences, University of Missouri, Columbia, MO 65211, USA.


Biodiversity conservation strategies are increasingly focused on regions outside national protected areas, where animals face numerous anthropogenic threats and must coexist with human settlements, livestock, and agriculture. The effects of these potential threats are not always clear, but they could have profound implications for population viability. We used savannah elephants (Loxodonta africana) as a case study to assess the physiological stress associated with living in a human-livestock-dominated landscape. We collected samples over two 3-month periods in 2007 and 2008. We used fecal DNA to identify 96 individual elephants in a community conservation area (CCA) and measured fecal glucocorticoid metabolite (FGM) concentrations as a proxy for stress. The CCA is community Maasai land managed for livestock and wildlife. We compared the FGM concentrations from the CCA to FGM concentrations of 40 elephants in Amboseli National Park and 32 elephants in the Maasai Mara National Reserve, where human settlements and intense livestock grazing were absent. In the CCA, we found no significant individual differences in FGM concentrations among the elephants in 2007 (p = 0.312) or 2008 (p = 0.412) and no difference between years (p = 0.616). The elephants in the CCA had similar FGM concentrations to the Maasai Mara population, but Amboseli elephants had significantly lower FGM concentrations than those in either Maasai Mara or the CCA (Tukey pairwise test, p < 0.001), due primarily to females excreting significantly lower FGM relative to males (p = 0.025). In the CCA, there was no relation among female group size, average pairwise group relatedness, and average group FGM concentration. We found no clear evidence of chronic stress in elephants living on CCA communal land, which is encouraging for conservation strategies promoting the protection of animals living outside protected areas.

Conservation Biology © 2013 Society for Conservation Biology No claim to original US government works.

[PubMed - indexed for MEDLINE]
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