In Kenya, Dr Lauren Evans, a post-doctoral researcher at the Department of Geography, is also researching the conflicts that arise when elephants and humans share the same rural landscape. She is an associate director of Space for Giants, a Kenyan-based elephant conservation charity that seeks to ensure a future for elephants through human-elephant conflict mitigation, anti-poaching, securing space and education. Her work focuses on relationships between elephants and farmers in an area of northern Kenya called Laikipia.
“Electrified fences are increasingly being used as the ‘silver bullet’ solution to human-elephant conflict across much of African elephant range by creating a space for elephants, within wildlife areas, and a space for people,” says Evans. “Yet many fences fail in their objectives. Elephants adapt to break even the most sophisticated of fences and engage in an arms race with people trying to maintain them.”
Little is known about how, why and where elephants break fences. Evans’ PhD research has filled this gap. “Fence-breaking elephants occupy a unique niche at the frontline of human-occupied landscapes. These are animals that take risks, and face threats posed by humans, to raid crops for nutritional gain. We’ve found that fence-breakers are invariably older males,” she says.
Evans’ research has shed light on the often-elusive social dynamics of bull elephants, which are considered to be more solitary than females. Through use of GPS collars, camera traps positioned along fence lines, and days and nights of patient observation in the field, Evans found that bull elephants broke fences in loyal groupings.