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Camera Traps Unveil Enigmatic Crop Raiders in Udawalawe, Sri Lanka

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


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
     
      

      

 
     
      
  

 


      
    



       
   

      
     
   

     


   
     



       
     




      
   

      

     
     


    





     

   
       

 

     





     

      
      
      
      


    

  
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
     



  
     



       


 
   

        


   
       


   

      
        
      
   
 


      

    
    
      


     
      
      
   
    


     



   
      
     


       

       





    
      


        






     
   
       
      



   

        



     


      

        
   
       
      
     




    




      
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

      
      
        
      
      



 

      
      
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
        
       
 
  
    
     
    
      
       
      
     

      
  

     
       
       
       
    

       
     
       
     


 



 
      
    
     
     
      
     
      



        

        







   



       
      
 


       

      


     
     

  
 






      





        
       
      



      

        


     





     



        
      

      
        
     
        
       
      
     

       




     
       
       
       




       


       


      
      
     
      
       

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



      
        
      

      


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     
     
     


   


     

    





      

     

     
     







    

      





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



  

     


       



    


   
     

    
     




     
    

       

 
       
    

     


        
      
   


   


     


     
     
     

     



       
       
    
    


         
    
    

       

      



  

      
      

     
     
    

... In 2019, rolls of concertina wire were laid between the two fences. While elephants also exited the fences on the other boundaries and raided (Ranjeewa et al. 2015), measures such as the second fence, concertina wire and patrolling were implemented only on the southern boundary. Dubois and Fraser (2013a) suggested evaluating food provisioning of wild animals, based on its effect on conservation and animal welfare, and the ability to control the activity. ...
... Human-elephant conflict occurred all around the park. Monitoring three locations in a 6-km fence segment on the northern boundary found 35 adult males regularly crossing the electric fence to raid (Ranjeewa et al. 2015). Some elephants also broke the southern perimeter fence at night, raided sugarcane and paddy fields and broke back into the park at dawn. ...
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Feeding of wild Asian elephants at the Udawalawe National Park perimeter electric fence by the general public is longstanding. We monitored the elephants and feeding activities, and conducted questionnaire surveys of stakeholders. Over 50 individual adult male elephants engaged in the activity. The exclusive male presence was consistent with a high-risk high-gain male strategy. The elephants were mostly offered fruits and vegetables. Over a thousand people a day watched and fed the elephants. Most people bought food for elephants from roadside stalls and vendors had significantly more sales if elephants were present. The feeding of elephants brought significant economic benefit to communities bordering the park. We found the impacts of feeding on the elephants and environment to be largely neutral. Impacts on people and conservation were mainly positive. Actions taken by authorities to stop the feeding have targeted the elephants and resulted in the decrease of feeding but not its elimination. Managing the activity instead would help increase economic benefits and ensure safe interaction between people and elephants. Such management, by directly benefitting local communities, could make them partners in the conservation process and form the basis of an effective outreach program.
... A single camera trap was placed within each of these 63 cells, at waterholes with elephant usage established through the initial survey (Fig. 4). Information on elephant age, sex, group size, group composition and musth state was collected and individual identification carried out, simultaneously across these locations using photographs obtained [48][49][50][51] . These cameras covered a gradient of forest fragmentation and human use within the study area (Srinivasaiah N.M., Sinha, A., Vaidyanathan, S. & Sukumar, R. unpublished data) and were operational both during the day and at night, ensuring spatio-temporal coverage. ...
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Male Asian elephants are known to adopt a high-risk high-gain foraging strategy by venturing into agricultural areas and feeding on nutritious crops in order to improve their reproductive fitness. We hypothesised that the high risks to survival posed by increasingly urbanising and often unpredictable production landscapes may necessitate the emergence of behavioural strategies that allow male elephants to persist in such landscapes. Using 1445 photographic records of 248 uniquely identified male Asian elephants over a 23-month period, we show that male Asian elephants display striking emergent behaviour, particularly the formation of stable, long-term all-male groups, typically in non-forested or human-modified and highly fragmented areas. They remained solitary or associated in mixed-sex groups, however, within forested habitats. These novel, large all-male associations, may constitute a unique life history strategy for male elephants in the high-risk but resource-rich production landscapes of southern India. This may be especially true for the adolescent males, which seemed to effectively improve their body condition by increasingly exploiting anthropogenic resources when in all-male groups. This observation further supports our hypothesis that such emergent behaviours are likely to constitute an adaptive strategy for male Asian elephants that may be forced to increasingly confront anthropogenically intrusive environments.
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Foraging by wildlife on anthropogenic foods can have negative impacts on both humans and wildlife. Addressing this issue requires reliable data on the patterns of anthropogenic foraging by wild animals, but while direct observation by researchers can be highly accurate, this method is also costly and labor‐intensive, making it impractical in the long‐term or over large spatial areas. Camera traps and observations by guards employed to deter animals from fields could be efficient alternative methods of data collection for understanding patterns of foraging by wildlife in crop fields. Here, we investigated how data on crop‐foraging by chacma baboons and vervet monkeys collected by camera traps and crop guards predicted data collected by researchers, on a commercial farm in South Africa. We found that data from camera traps and field guard observations predicted crop loss and the frequency of crop‐foraging events from researcher observations for crop‐foraging by baboons and to a lesser extent for vervets. The effectiveness of cameras at capturing crop‐foraging events was dependent on their position on the field edge. We believe that these alternatives to direct observation by researchers represent an efficient and low‐cost method for long‐term and large‐scale monitoring of foraging by wildlife on crops. Understanding anthropogenic foraging by researcher observation is costly and labor‐intensive. We investigated whether camera traps and crop guard records could give the same insights as researcher observation into patterns of crop‐foraging by baboons and vervet monkeys. Camera and guard data predicted data from researchers for baboons, and to an extent, vervets, and therefore present a viable alternative to researcher observation allowing for large‐scale and long‐term monitoring of crop‐foraging.
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Protected areas provide some of the last refuges for Asian elephants in the wild. Managing these areas for elephants will be critical for elephant conservation. Scientists know little about elephant habitat use in Asia and how invasive species or livestock grazing influence habitat use. We studied these issues in two protected areas in Sri Lanka, Udawalawe National Park and Hurulu Eco-Park. These areas contain some of Sri Lanka's largest remaining grasslands. These grasslands are threatened by the invasive and toxic shrub, Lantana camara, and are used for illegal livestock grazing. To measure habitat use by elephants and livestock, we conducted dung surveys along over 50 km of transects stratified across grassland, scrub, and forest. We surveyed 159 vegetation plots along these transects to assess plant composition, and mapped habitat types based on satellite images. We used mixed-effect models to determine the relative importance of habitats, livestock presence, and plant associations for elephant use. Elephant presence was greatest in scrub and grassland habitats, positively associated with both livestock presence and short graminoids, and unaffected by L. camara, which was widespread but at low densities. Given the importance of these areas to elephants, we recommend a precautionary management approach that focuses on curbing both illegal grazing and the spread of L. camara.
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Population health and habitat quality are intimately related and seasonal changes in habitat quality are likely to be reflected in the body condition of animals. We studied seasonal variation of body condition in free ranging Asian elephants (Elephas maximus) in Udawalawe National Park, Sri Lanka based on visual scoring of individually identified elephants. We assessed the body condition of 218 adult females and 329 adult males from January 2008 to November 2012 and examined its relation to monthly rainfall and water level of the Udawalawe reservoir. Contrary to expectations, body condition of elephants was higher in the dry season, when primary productivity decreases due to lack of rainfall. However, the body condition showed both a seasonal and inter-annual negative co-relation with reservoir water level. A possible explanation for improved body condition in the dry season is the greater availability of fresh grass due to the emergence of reservoir bed grasslands with the drawdown of water. Our results underscore the importance of water management of large irrigation reservoirs in elephant conservation in Sri Lanka.
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