Boundja, Roger Patrick
Elephant conservation and landscape ecology in Northern Congo: distribution and ranging patterns and the relationships with poaching, logging, and climate change.
Research and Ecological Monitoring Coordinator and Site Manager for the Tropical Ecology Assessment Monitoring (TEAM) Network, Northern Congo landscape (Nouabalé-Ndoki National Park and periphery), Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) Congo Program.
The northern Congo Landscape is a >10-million-hectare multiple land use area including four protected areas (three national parks and one community reserve) and fifteen logging concessions. About 90% of the landscape is covered by tropical forest, with the remaining being covered by savanna grasslands and human settlement, including croplands. Originally spread across the landscape, elephant population has been shrunken into the two national parks of Odzala -Kokoua and Nouabalé-Ndoki and a few logging concessions, where they are under protection. Recent surveys carried out across the landscape by the WCS-Congo Program have shown that elephant population could have been reduced to less than 50% of its original size during the last free decades with the main reason being an increased in the illegal international trade of ivory, mainly to China. Previous studies have also revealed but with weak evidence and no clear explanation, that elephant densities were high across some logged forest with a certain level of protection in the northern Congo conservation landscape. Moreover, elephant feeding ecology data from the early 2000s across the Nouabalé-Ndoki NP and the surrounding logging concessions provide key information about elephant food preference and seasonal movements. However, little, otherwise nothing is known in terms of elephant ranging patterns with regard to the multiple scale habitat disturbances from logging, poaching and other human illegal activities, and more importantly, the contribution of elephants as forest gardeners in reducing the negative impacts of climate change and global warming.
The proposed research project goal is to improve elephant conservation strategies, building on strong understanding of elephant landscape ecology through the above-mentioned key concepts, in addition to an improved protection system leading to a reduced poaching across the landscape. Activities under the current project will include:
– Putting GPS collars on at least 30 elephants across the northern Congo landscape, including Nouabalé-Ndoki and Odzala-Kokoua NP, and the neighboring logging concessions;
– Elephant abundance and distribution as from the past Ndoki-Likouala surveys;
– Updates on elephant food preferences feeding ecology, following up from Blake’s PhD dissertation;
– Studying the elephant contribution in reducing the impact of climate change through the potential of carbon dioxide sequestration by some candidates fruiting trees that are logged for commercial purposes;
– Strengthening elephant protection system inside and outside the protected areas across the landscape with a series of targeted mobile patrols and check-points, developing a landscape-wide LEM database, and awareness campaigns through posters and workshops;
– Ground-truthing fieldwork, based on the elephant GPS collar data and other remote sensing data, and finally;
– Advanced GIS and statistical analysis of the elephant data, leading into a PhD dissertation and at least two peer review outstanding scientific papers, provide appropriate guidelines, management recommendations and strategies for the long-term conservation of forest elephant, to the Congolese and regional Wildlife authorities and logging companies, and the international conservation and scientific communities.
Boundja, R. P. and Midgley, J. J. (2010), Patterns of elephant impact on woody plants in the Hluhluwe-Imfolozi park, Kwazulu-Natal, South Africa. African Journal of Ecology, 48: 206–214. doi: 10.1111/j.1365-2028.2009.01104.x
Blake S, Strindberg S, Boudjan P, Makombo C, Bila-Isia I, et al. (2007) Forest Elephant Crisis in the Congo Basin. PLoS Biol 5(4): e111. doi:10.1371/journal.pbio.0050111
Updated: October 15, 2012