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Change the world

12/12/2023

Human-elephant conflict (HEC) is a prevailing issue in protected areas across Africa, threatening the livelihood of the human communities, vulnerable to this conflict and the persistence of elephant populations.

 

Mignon Voges, who will be graduating at Nelson Mandela University's Graduation ceremony on 13 December, with an MSc in Zoology cum laude, explored the conflict between humans and elephants in Africa, and specifically, how this could be understood across space and time. She also managed to find useful solutions to recommend to the park management.

The research was not easy as students were unable to do fieldwork, due to travel restrictions during the COVID-19 lockdown, but the University has a Memorandum of Understanding for student support and training with African Parks, who manages 22 protected areas across 12 African countries.

As Mignon could not visit the park during the pandemic, she used satellite data and remote sensed environmental data, to determine where and why this conflict occurs. She had to however, significantly improve and expand her knowledge and skills in spatial analyses.

Her MSc required her to adapt to a remote and often isolated research environment, relying on virtual communication with her supervisors, Zoology’s Professor Graham Kerley, and research associate Dr Angela Gaylard, from African Parks.

She used the African Parks records of elephant space use and human-elephant conflict incidents to map hotspots for these conflicts, especially around Liwonde National Park, a small, fenced protected area, located in southern Malawi, and managed by African Parks on behalf of the Malawi Government.

Mignon then developed a novel approach to identify and investigate the drivers of this conflict around Liwonde to provide valuable insight into elephant breakout patterns and assist the park management to place mitigation measures more strategically and employ new ways to investigate the conflict.

The park is surrounded by a high density of humans and widespread croplands. Despite the fence, elephants continue to break out and raid crops, resulting in the loss of human livelihoods and human and elephant injuries and/or death.

“I found that elephants preferred areas (croplands) outside the park, close to the fence and water. Crops provide higher quality food compared to vegetation inside the park, especially during the dry season, when the conflict was most frequent. The elephants also broke out and crop-raided predominantly at night or in the early hours of the morning, to reduce the risk of direct contact with humans.

Mignon’s possible solutions include moving beekeeping and beehives and chilli-farming crops (deterrents) into the conflict hotspots, within a 500m buffer from the fence. In this way the communities can generate income and the conflict be alleviated as the primary driver of the conflict, was the crops surrounding Liwonde.

This is not an issue at Addo, Mignon says, as there is sufficient food and water inside the park.  

Meanwhile Mignon moved to Ireland with her husband this year and is looking for work there. She is, however, writing two manuscripts, based on her two data chapters to publish as articles.

“My dream job is to work in conservation. It is a bit difficult in Ireland, since there are no elephants or rhinos (my favourite animals), only small mammals and sheep and cows! I am hopeful that I will find a job, possibly as a conservation ranger or research assistant at a university, she says.

Contact information
Ms Elma de Koker
Internal Communication Practitioner
Tel: 041-504 2160
elma.dekoker@mandela.ac.za