October 28th, 2008 by Alex Felsinger
New research by the Wildlife Conservation Society and Save the Elephants has found that African Elephants are quickly becoming trapped by new road construction cutting through their forest habitats.
The study, which appeared in today’s issue of Public Library of Science, says the elephants have adopted a “siege mentality” and literally cannot bring themselves to cross roadways, even in search of food.[social_buttons]
“Forest elephants are basically living in fear of their lives in prisons created by roads. They are roaming around the woods like frightened mice rather than tranquil formidable giants of their forest realm,” said Dr. Stephen Blake, the study’s lead author.
But it’s not the roads themselves the elephants fear; it’s the poachers who travel on the roads. So for now, the elephants may be protecting themselves from certain death from poachers, but eventually, as their habitats shrink, they could be separated from food sources and important mineral deposits.
The researchers tracked 28 elephants in six different areas in the Republic of Congo and Gabonwith. Using GPS systems they followed the elephants, finding that only one was brave enough to cross a road—and even then, the elephant ran at 14 times its normal speed.
Road construction is not slowing down in Central Africa, which could spell bad news for the endangered giants. But researchers believe some quick planning changes could make a huge difference.
“A small yet very feasible shift in development planning, one that is actually good for poor local forest people and for wildlife and wilderness, would be a tremendous help to protect forest elephants and their home,” said Blake.
“Planning roads to give forest elephants breathing space so that at least those in the deep forest can relax, as well as reduce the death and fear that comes with roads by reducing poaching, would be trivial in terms of cost but massively important for conservation.”
Photo Credit: Wildlife Conservation Society, used with permission.
Keep up to date with all the most interesting green news on the planet by subscribing to our (free) Planetsave newsletter.