Do topography and fruit presence influence occurrence and intensity of crop-raiding by forest elephants (Loxodonta africana cyclotis)? PLoS ONE 14(3). doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0213971
Crop damage by forest elephants (Loxodonta africana cyclotis) and the resulting humanelephant conflict are issues of great concern for both the conservation of the species and the protection of rural livelihoods in Central Africa. Addressing these problems requires identifying the factors that facilitate or impede crop-raiding by forest elephants. Yet to date, the environmental or anthropogenic factors that influence the occurrence and intensity of cropraiding by forest elephants are largely unknown. We used a multivariate approach to investigate conditions under which forest elephants raid some fields and not others in the buffer zone of Monts de Cristal National Park (MCNP), Gabon. We first interviewed 121 farmers from 11 villages situated within 10 km of MCNP regarding the occurrence of elephant cropraiding of their fields. We then collected data on 39 explanatory variables to characterize the agricultural fields. Of these, the most important predictors of elephant raid occurrence of crop damage were presence of fruit trees, elephant deterrents (scarecrows, fire, wire string fences and empty barrels), and field topography. We secondly assessed the effect of stage of crop growth, presence of fruit trees, field topography and presence of elephant deterrents on crop-raiding occurrence and intensity by counting raids and measuring areas of crop damage every week in 17 plantations over 19 weeks in the most elephant-impacted zone of the study area. We found that fruit presence and stage of crop growth led to more intense damage to crops, whereas local deterrents did not inhibit raiding events and crop damage by elephants. We report a tradeoff between non-timber forest products (NTFP) services and crop-raiding by elephants. We show for the first time that steep topography impedes elephant damage to crops with no raids recorded in fields with surrounding slopes greater than 25%. We discuss whether farming on steep fields could be used as a strategy for mitigating crop-raiding to favor human-elephant coexistence and enhance elephant conservation.