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Landscape-scale sexual segregation in the dry season distribution and resource utilization of elephants in Kruger National Park, South Africa

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This study compared the dry season distribution of elephant bull groups and mixed herds and the resources driving these distributions within Kruger National Park, South Africa. It is important to understand what resources drive the distribution of elephants as this may be of relevance to understanding and managing their impact. It is also important to distinguish between resource use by bull groups and mixed herds because their impact on the habitat may differ. Our results indicated that sexual segregation, both in space and in resource selection, did occur in Kruger Park. Bulls roamed more widely in the park, and although their distribution and resource use overlapped with mixed herds, they also occurred in areas that mixed herds apparently did not, or could not, utilize in the dry season. This gave rise to areas used exclusively by bulls but no areas used exclusively by mixed herds. Lower collective feeding requirements as a result of smaller group size, wider habitat tolerance, and increased mobility as a result of bigger body size, as well as conflict avoidance with musth bulls in areas with mixed herds, might have been some of the reasons for bull groups roaming more widely and for the establishment of separate bull areas. Rivers were an important resource driving both the distribution of the mixed herds and bull groups, but with the mixed herds occurring closer to these resource hot spots than the bull groups. Tree cover proved important for mixed herds, probably because of the importance of shade and the higher nutritional requirements of the smaller-sized cows and calves. Artificial waterholes might have opened up previously unutilized areas for bulls in the dry season, especially on the grassy basaltic plains in the north of the park. However, the distribution of the mixed herds suggested that they did not occur in higher densities in areas surrounding waterholes.
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Keywords: Allometry; Kruger National Park; elephants; resource partitioning; sexual dimorphism; sexual segregation

Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: Scientific Services, Kruger National Park, Private Bag X402, Skukuza, 1350, South Africa

Publication date: 2007-03-01

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