Assessment of Physiological Stress in African Elephants in the Greater Laikipia/Ewaso Ecosystem, Kenya

27 Aug 2019 Laikipia County, Kenya, Africa Elephants | Mammals

Sandy Oduor


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23 Oct 2020

Understanding Nutritional and Physiological Stress Responses of African Elephants Exposed to Varying Land Use Types in Kenya to Aid Conservation Management

This study seeks to assess the physiological stress of African elephants to variation in land use by comparing the physiological stress levels of African elephants in both Mpala ranch and Koija group ranch with differing degrees of anthropogenic disturbance. The study also seeks to train community members on individual recognition of African elephants through preparation of a catalogue recognition file which will improve an understanding of the behaviour and demography of elephants in Koija group ranch and subsequently facilitate longitudinal studies on endocrine monitoring. Additionally, the study seeks to build the capacity of researchers on the need to carryout longitudinal studies of endocrine function on endangered species within Laikipia.

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Laikipia County, Kenya consists of a mosaic of land-use types which may exert different physiological stresses on African elephants that traverse them. My study will characterize and compare the physiological responses between African elephants at Mpala private ranch and Koija group ranch, which I hypothesize will result in different stress levels.

An already established catalogue recognition file for monitoring elephants that was prepared during the Mpala Elephant Research project from 2009-2015 will be used to identify family groups and lone bulls. A sample size of 50 individual dung samples will be targeted at Mpala. Additionally, local community scouts and guards will be trained on how to prepare catalogue recognition file for identifying individual elephants in Koija group ranch. This will help us determine the demographic status of African elephants in Koija group ranch and facilitate dung sample collection of the identified individuals in Koija group ranch. The catalogue recognition file prepared in Koija group ranch, will also facilitate longitudinal studies of endocrine monitoring. I will assess stress hormones using established validation protocols for measuring faecal glucocorticoid metabolite concentrations. Hormone levels in each land use type and different anthropogenic activities within these properties will be compared.

A one week workshop will be held in Laikipia targeting researchers with interest in conservation physiology. Conservation physiology tool through hormonal analysis of glucocorticoids/corticosteroids can be used to quantify the impact of anthropogenic activities on the physiological stress levels of threatened species, early detecting of these anthropogenic disturbances, and an understanding of how the anthropogenic disturbances manifest themselves on the physiological state and reproductive output of the threatened species for management intervention. My study will provide new insights into how anthropogenic perturbations may influence the physiological conditions of African elephants in two properties (i.e. Mpala and Koija) with different levels of anthropogenic disturbance.

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