Human-Wildlife Interactions

The Elephants of Gorongosa: An Integrated Approach to Conservation and Conflict Mitigation in the Shadow of War

Elephants are the world’s largest extant land mammal, and are an iconic species throughout sub-Saharan Africa. Nevertheless, elephants regularly come into conflict with humans, and management of elephant populations is often fraught with controversy. Gorongosa National Park, in central Mozambique, was once home to more than 2,000 elephants. Most (>90%) of those elephants were killed to feed soldiers during the Mozambican Civil War (1977-1992) and to fund the purchase of arms and ammunition through the sale of ivory. Subsequent recovery of the Park’s elephant population under the auspices of the Gorongosa Restoration Project (GRP) has been an unparalleled conservation success story. However, as this population has recovered, increased crop-raiding by elephants along park boundaries (now heavily cultivated) has threatened to undo restoration efforts, with conflicts between elephants and farmers posing a serious threat to the overall success of the GRP. Human-elephant conflict at Gorongosa is a complex issue that requires urgent attention to avoid further diminishing the tolerance of farmers and simultaneously jeopardizing elephants’ survival. Implementing effective non-lethal strategies for preventing crop damage by these elephants is a complicated task, and the objectives of this project are to:

  1. Collect detailed data on elephant crop damage;

  2. Quantify temporal and spatial patterns of crop raiding by intensive monitoring of individuals with satellite collars;

  3. Evaluate the effectiveness of different strategies for deterring elephants from crop raiding, including bee hives, chili fences, and combinations of the two.

Study Location: Gorongosa National Park, Mozambique.

Timeline: This project was completed in the spring of 2018 by Paola Branco for her MS degree. Read a National Geographic blog post about Paola's work here. Read Paola's thesis here.