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Bothalia - African Biodiversity & Conservation

On-line version ISSN 2311-9284
Print version ISSN 0006-8241


RUSHWORTH, Ian A.; DRUCE, Dave; CRAIGIE, John  and  COVERDALE, Brent. Vulnerability of vulture populations to elephant impacts in KwaZulu-Natal. Bothalia (Online) [online]. 2018, vol.48, n.2, pp.1-10. ISSN 2311-9284.

Elephant were previously widespread in savanna and coastal systems of KwaZulu-Natal (KZN), but were virtually extirpated by 1870. Over time, elephant have been reintroduced into their former range in KZN, but always onto small fenced systems (mean size 191.3 km2 ± 87.8 km2, median size 107.0 km2, range 14 km2 - 900 km2). These populations have increased rapidly (8.4% per annum), and although a number of populations are now being managed using contraception, the majority of the populations (66.7%, 14 out of 21) are stocked above the 'preferred density' as defined in their approved management plans, while others will soon exceed the preferred density. Vulture populations in KZN are small, declining and already at risk of extinction. In KZN, 94.2% of tree-nesting vulture nests occur in areas with elephant; this could increase to 99.5% in the near future if proposed land-use change takes place. Anthropogenic impacts in the broader landscape mean that there are limited opportunities for vultures to nest elsewhere, and we hypothesise that loss of suitable nesting habitat in existing areas, including through impact of elephant on large trees, could result in declines and even extirpation of these species as breeding residents. Given the demonstrated and potential impacts of elephants on large trees necessary for vulture nesting, it is essential that the role of protected areas and extensive wildlife systems for vultures be adequately taken into account when managing elephant populations. It is important that a precautionary and adaptive management approach is taken regarding management of elephant in areas important for vultures, at least until the ecological interactions between vultures, vegetation, elephant and other drivers are better understood, and until the willingness and ability to manage elephant numbers and impact according to the elephant management plans are demonstrated.

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