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Asian elephants prefer habitats on the outskirts of these types of areas

Asian elephants are endangered and live in highly fragmented landscapes.

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Little boy feeding a group of Asian elephants bananas at an animal sanctuary in Thailand
(Ground Picture via Shutterstock)

By Pol Allingham via SWNS

Asian elephants prefer habitats near humans, according to a new study.

A comprehensive analysis of elephant behavior unveiled that elephants prefer habitats on the boundaries of protected areas.

They reported the majority of elephants prefer “slightly disturbed” forests and areas of regrowth and spend over half of their time outside protected areas.

Writing in the Journal of Applied Ecology, international researchers warned this means humans need to learn to live with elephants, because the two are likely to meet when elephants wander from conservation areas.

Currently, human conflict is the main cause of death for elephants.

Scientists have said a top research priority must be ways to increase people's tolerance of elephants.

They analyzed the movement and habitat of 102 Asian elephants in Peninsular Malaysia and Borneo, recording over 600,000 GPS locations.

Group of Asian elephants standing together behind a rope at an animal sanctuary in Thailand
(Ground Picture via Shutterstock)

It appears the mammals love disturbed forests for their abundant grass, bamboo, palms and fast-growing trees - unlike under the canopy of old-growth forests.

Authors emphasized their findings on the “nuances of elephant needs” do not make protected areas less important, as cornerstones for conservation strategies.

Dr. Ahimsa Campos-Arceiz from Xishuangbanna Tropical Botanical Garden and the University of Nottingham in Malaysia, and one of the lead authors of the study said: “Our results show that protected areas are very important, but not enough as an overall strategy for Asian elephant conservation.

“Given their preference for habitats outside the protected areas, elephants will inevitably come into conflict with people.

“This highlights the importance of promoting human-elephant coexistence around protected areas.”

They have recommended three important changes for Asian elephant conservation.

Conservationists must include large protected areas with core hubs where elephants can find safety.

They must also incorporate ecological corridors to connect the different protected areas in a network.

Human-elephant conflict must also be mitigated, with an emphasis on protecting people’s safety and livelihoods while tolerating the elephant's presence.

Dr. Benoit Goossens from Danau Girang Field Centre and Cardiff University, the other lead author added: “We believe protected areas are the most effective tool for biodiversity conservation in general.

“In the case of Asian elephants, protected areas provide long-term safety and represent the core areas for elephant conservation.

“Our results show that elephant conservation strategies need to be realistic and acknowledge the nuances of elephant habitat needs and preferences, integrating holistic human-elephant coexistence approaches outside protected areas.”

Large Asian elephant walking alone down a trail in the forest of an animal sanctuary in Thailand
(Ground Picture via Shutterstock)

The research took place in the Sundaic region, a global hotspot for biodiversity.

However, only 50 percent of the region’s original forest remains, and less than 10 percent of it is protected.

Asian elephants are endangered and live in highly fragmented landscapes in the region.

The animals often find themselves in human-run areas, inevitably leading to human-elephant conflict.

Movement data on the 102 elephants over a decade was studied to figure out how much time they spent in different areas of the World Database of Protected Areas.

Speaking on the next steps for research in this area and Asian elephant conservation, Dr. Antonio de la Torre, the first author of the study, said: “Human-elephant conflict is now the main threat for Asian elephants, yet we know surprisingly little about the effectiveness of different mitigation strategies and how to promote long-term and sustainable human-elephant coexistence.

“Understanding how we can reduce the costs of this conflict for both people and elephants, and how to increase people’s tolerance towards elephant presence, should be the top research priority in the area.”

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