Published on October 28th, 2008 | by Alex Felsinger


Fearful Elephants Would Sooner Starve Than Cross Roads

October 28th, 2008 by

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.

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About the Author

is primarily concerned with animal welfare, wildlife conservation, and environmental justice. As a freelance writer in San Francisco, he leads a deliberately simplistic and thrifty lifestyle, yet still can’t help gawking at the newest green gadgets and zero-emission concept cars.

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  • Avatar

    @blademonkey How do you make an elephant crosswalk lol? I think you forgot they are elephants!

  • @blademonkey

    You misunderstand the problem. In situations where migratory land animals die frequently from being unable to cross freeways without getting hit, then a pedestrian bridge or tunnel would be a viable solution.

    In this case the deaths come from poachers with guns rather than indiscriminate automobile collisions. Bridges or tunnels with the intent of elephants using them to bypass traffic would just make it easier for the poachers to know where the the elephants would be crossing the road. The elephants would soon ‘learn’ never to use those crossings.

  • Charles

    Humans have that problem too. They wont cross a road until they come to it.

  • The chicken will cross the road but the elephant will not.

  • blademonkey

    Why not make elephant crosswalks or bridges which are covered by dirt/grass, that way it looks natural.

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