Can We Talk About the Elephant in the Park?

Project Team: South Africa Ecological Forecasting Team
Team Location: University of Georgia, Athens, Georgia


Land-cover classification of study area within Kruger National Park illustrating elephant habitat use.

Land-cover classification of study area within Kruger National Park illustrating elephant habitat use.



Authors:
Andrea Presotto (University of Georgia)
Kirstin Valdes (University of Georgia)
Ashley Dupont (University of Georgia)
Christine Brady (University of Georgia)
Megan Kise (University of Georgia)
Caren Remillard (University of Georgia)


Mentors/Advisors:
Dr. Marguerite Madden (Department of Geography, University of Georgia)
Steve Padgett-Vasquez (Department of Geography, University of Georgia)


Past/Other Contributors:
Dr. Richard Fayrer-Hosken (Professor Emeritus, College of Veterinary Medicine at the University of Georgia)


Abstract:


South Africa’s Kruger National Park (KNP) is currently experiencing an alarming landscape succession from woodland to grassland habitat. Park management is concerned that the resident African elephant Loxodonta africana population could be inducing the landscape change; however, the relationship between elephant behavior and loss of woodland habitat is poorly understood. This study used NASA Earth observations to quantify land cover change within an area inhabited by African elephants in KNP from 1998- 2013. Additionally, the effects of controlled burns and changes in temperature were investigated during the study period. The study area was defined based upon geographic coordinates collected by GPS-enabled collars attached to four female elephants over the span of six months. Subsequently, a kernel method was applied to predict the total area utilized by the herd of elephants. Individual land cover maps were produced from a time-series of Landsat imagery using pixel-based and object-based classification techniques to determine the most appropriate method for monitoring landscape changes in this area. Furthermore, associated vegetation biomass and nitrogen levels, derived from RapidEye satellite imagery, were evaluated with land cover changes to identify other possible agents of change. This project provides park managers with information on elephant movement, habitat use, and impacts on vegetation for improved management of KNP elephant populations.



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