The challenges and opportunities in conserving wide-ranging cross-border species : a case study of the Greater Mapungubwe Transfrontier Conservation Area elephant population.
Selier, Sarah-Anne Jeanetta.
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Transfrontier conservation areas potentially play a key role in conserving biodiversity and promoting socioeconomic development. However, socio-political factors often affect their effectiveness in achieving biodiversity conservation and sustainable development objectives. Following a transdisciplinary approach, I assessed the challenges and opportunities in conserving and managing the African elephant (Loxodonta africana) population within the Greater Mapungubwe Transfrontier Conservation Area (GMTFCA) in Botswana, South Africa and Zimbabwe, southern Africa. The results showed that the current rate of offtake of bull elephant in the GMTFCA is unsustainable. At current rates of hunting, in fact, trophy bulls were predicted to disappear from the population in less than 10 years. Elephant densities were higher in South Africa and Botswana where the gross domestic product is higher. In addition, elephant densities were higher at sites where the proportion of agricultural land around them was the lowest and where vegetation productivity was the highest. Trophy hunting, as well as other localised human activities, also affected the distribution of elephant within sites, forcing them to trade-off between disturbance avoidance and the availability of food and water. While at the international level, a significant body of law and policy relevant to elephant conservation exists, I found that there was little cooperation among Botswana, South Africa and Zimbabwe, and a lack of implementation of these provisions on a national and trilateral level. Overall, this study confirmed that poverty was an important factor affecting elephant abundance at the country level, but highlighted that, at the site level, anthropogenic disturbance played a crucial role. A revision of the current hunting quotas within each country and the establishment of a single multi-jurisdictional (cross-border) management authority regulating the hunting of elephant is needed. Further, to reduce the impact of increasing human populations and agricultural expansion, the development of coordinated legislation and policies to improve land use planning, and the development of conservation corridors to link current protected areas, is needed. The issues regarding the management of this elephant population illustrate the significant challenges involved in achieving a comprehensive, consistent and effective implementation of a transboundary population approach. Southern African countries make an important contribution to elephant conservation and could soon become the last stronghold of elephant conservation in sub-Saharan Africa. Therefore, immediate actions are needed to reduce pressures from human activities in order to enhance the long-term persistence of the species.
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