Original Research

Selective habitat utilisation and impact on vegetation by African elephant within a heterogeneous landscape

A. Steyn, M. Stalmans
Koedoe | Vol 44, No 1 | a189 | DOI: https://doi.org/10.4102/koedoe.v44i1.189 | © 2001 A. Steyn, M. Stalmans | This work is licensed under CC Attribution 4.0
Submitted: 01 July 2001 | Published: 01 July 2001

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A. Steyn, Pretoria Technikon, South Africa
M. Stalmans, Mpumalanga Parks Board, South Africa

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Since 1992, a total of 33 elephants have been reintroduced to a 31 000 ha game-fenced section of the Songimvelo Game Reserve in the Barberton Mountainland, South Africa. The impact from elephant was assessed on the attainment of the primary management objectives which are the conservation of plant community and plant species diversity. A total of 160 semi-quantitative plots were systematically sampled along foraging paths. Vegetation was assessed in terms of dominant species composition and species utilised. Elephant activity is mostly confined to a rugged 1 200 ha portion of the reserve. Forest, thickets and woodlands are positively selected, whereas shrublands and grasslands are little utilised. A total of 73 woody species were recorded within the sample plots. Thirtynine of these species were utilised in the woodlands, 31 in the forest and thickets, and only 18 in the shrublands. Acacia ataxacantha, Dalbergia armata and Acacia caffra are ranked highest in dominance and in utilisation values. In contrast, Cussonia spicata and Pterocarpus angolensis are less common but are much selected. Continued utilisation at present levels could significantly threaten their persistence. These preliminary results indicate that the present low overall density of elephants relative to many other conservation areas already has a marked effect on certain plant species. Absolute elephant density figures are relatively meaningless within a heterogeneous landscape. The specific community and species make-up of the landscape needs to be taken into account for the determination of bounds to elephant numbers in order to ensure the maintenance of present plant species diversity levels.


elephant, landscape ecology, habitat selection, preference.


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