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How elephants utilize a miombo-wetland ecosystem in Ugalla landscape, Western Tanzania

How elephants utilize a miombo-wetland ecosystem in Ugalla landscape, Western Tanzania
Elikana Kalumanga

2015

Department of Physical Geography, Stockholm University, SE-106 91 Stockholm, SWEDEN.

ABSTRACT

African elephants are ‘keystone’ species with respect to biodiversity conservation in Africa since they maintain habitats that support several animal communities by changing vegetation structure through foraging and by dispersing seeds between landscapes. Elephants are also ‘flagship’ species because, given their impressive size, they can make people sympathetic and stimulate local and international concerns for their protection. Economically, elephants contribute to national revenues as tourists are willing to pay to watch them. Despite all these factors, little is known however about elephant movement and how they utilize resources, especially in miombo-wetland ecosystems. This thesis investigates how elephants utilize resources in a miombo-wetland ecosystem in the Ugalla landscape of Western Tanzania over different protected areas containing different resource users. Using Global Positioning System (GPS) collars fitted to six elephants, it was observed that some elephant families are not confined in one protected area in the Ugalla landscape. Rather, they moved readily between different protected areas. Elephant movements were restricted to areas near the rivers, especially the Ugalla River, during the dry season and were dispersed widely during the wet season. As they move, elephants in the miombo woodlands of Ugalla selected the most abundant woody plants for browsing. Common to many woody plants, the browsed plants were short of mineral nutrients (e.g., sodium, calcium). Elephants obtained additional minerals by eating soils from certain termite mounds. Soils from termite mounds are richer in mineral elements (e.g., sodium, calcium, iron) compared to soils from the surrounding flood plain or compared to the browsed plants. However, the recorded termite mounds from which elephants eat soils were not evenly distributed in the landscape but confined mainly to the flood plains in the Ugalla Game Reserve. The Ugalla River, which is the main source of water for the elephants and other animals and also supports fishing activities by the local people in Ugalla during the dry seasons, is infested by the water hyacinth (Eichhornia crassipes). Such infestation potentially limits access to these precious surface water supplies. In addition at the regional level, the Ugalla River is among the major rivers that flow into the Lake Tanganyika which is shared by the countries of Tanzania, Burundi, Democratic Republic of Congo and Zambia. Thus, the spread of water hyacinth if left unchecked threatens to impact Lake Tanganyika, affecting many countries and ecosystem services. This thesis highlights that sustainable conservation of biodiversity in different protected areas in the Ugalla landscape requires an integrated management approach that will embrace conservation of different interrelated landscape resources required by both wildlife and the rural poor populations for their livelihoods. Regular coordinated wildlife anti-poaching patrols should be initiated across the entire Ugalla landscape because the elephants, among other wildlife, utilize different protected areas in Ugalla. Local communities should also be engaged in conservation initiatives (e.g., controlling the spread of the water hyacinth) as these directly impact local livelihoods.