Determining baselines for human-elephant conflict: A matter of time.
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Elephant crop raiding is one of the most relevant forms of human-elephant conflict (HEC) in Africa. Northern Botswana holds the largest population of African elephants in the world, and in the eastern Okavango Panhandle, 16,000 people share and compete for resources with more than 11,000 elephants. Hence, it is not surprising this area represents a HEC 'hotspot' in the region. Crop-raiding impacts lead to negative perceptions of elephants by local communities, which can strongly undermine conservation efforts. Therefore, assessing trends in conflict levels is essential to developing successful management strategies. In this context, we investigated the trend in the number of reported raiding incidents as one of the indicators of the level of HEC, and assessed its relationship to trends in human and elephant population size, as well as land-use in the study area. For each of these factors, we considered data spanning historical (since the 1970s) and contemporary (2008-2015) time frames, with the aim of comparing subsequent inferences on the drivers of crop raiding and predictions for the future. We find that the level of reported crop raiding by elephants in the eastern Panhandle appears to have decreased since 2008, which seems to be related to the reduction in agricultural land allocated to people in recent years, more than with human and elephant population size. We show that inferences regarding the drivers of HEC and predictions for the future are dependent on the time span of the data used. Although our study represents a first step in developing a HEC baseline in the eastern Panhandle, it highlights the need for additional multi-scale analyses that consider progress in conservation conflict to better understand and predict drivers of HEC in the region.