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Fencing solves human‐wildlife conflict locally but shifts problems elsewhere: A case study using functional connectivity modelling of the African elephant

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Fencing is one of the most common methods of mitigating human‐wildlife conflicts. At the same time, fencing is considered one of the most pressing threats emerging in conservation globally. Although fences act as barriers and can cause population isolation and fragmentation over time, it is difficult to quantitatively predict the consequences fences have for wildlife. Here, we model how fencing designed to mitigate human‐elephant conflict (HEC) on the Borderlands between Kenya and Tanzania will affect functional connectivity and movement corridors for African elephants. Specifically, we (a) model functional landscape connectivity integrating natural and anthropogenic factors; (b) predict seasonal movement corridors used by elephants in non‐protected areas; and (c) evaluate whether fencing in one area can potentially intensify human‐wildlife conflicts elsewhere. We used GPS movement and remote sensing data to develop monthly step‐selection functions to model functional connectivity. For future scenarios, we used an ongoing fencing project designed for HEC mitigation within the study area. We modelled movement corridors using least‐cost path and circuit theory methods, evaluated their predictive power and quantified connectivity changes resulting from the planned fencing. Our results suggest that fencing will not cause landscape fragmentation and will not change functional landscape connectivity dramatically. However, fencing will lead to a loss of connectivity locally and will increase the potential for HEC in new areas. We estimate that wetlands, important for movement corridors, will be more intensively used by the elephants, which may also cause problems of overgrazing. Seasonal analysis highlights an increasing usage of non‐protected lands in the dry season and equal importance of the pinch point wetlands for preserving overall function connectivity. Synthesis and applications. Fencing is a solution to small‐scale human‐elephant conflict problems but will not solve the issue at a broader scale. Moreover, our results highlight that it may intensify the conflicts and overuse of habitat patches in other areas, thereby negating conservation benefits. If fencing is employed on a broader scale, then it is imperative that corridors are integrated within protected area networks to ensure local connectivity of affected species.
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Keywords: African elephant; circuitscape; conservation planning; fences; human‐elephant conflict; landscape connectivity; step‐selection function

Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: November 1, 2018

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