The impact of male contraception on dominance hierarchy and herd association patterns of African elephants (Loxodonta africana) in a fenced game reserve
Global Ecology and Conservation
Spatial Ecology and Landuse Unit, Oxford Brookes University, Headington Campus, Gipsy Lane, Oxford, United Kingdom; Operation Wallacea, Wallace House, Old Bolingbroke, Lincolnshire, United Kingdom; Space For Elephants Foundation, PO Box 972, Pongola, South Africa; Wildlife and Ecological Investments, Unit 20/21, Fountain Square, 136 Main Road, Somerset West, South Africa
Overpopulation of African elephants (Loxodonta africana) in fenced reserves in South Africa is becoming increasingly problematic to wildlife managers. With growing opposition to culling and the high cost of translocation, alternative management strategies focusing on male elephants are being investigated. In this study, hormonal treatment via Gonadotropin Releasing Hormone (GnRH) suppression, and surgical treatment via vasectomy were trialled. Focusing on behavioural responses, we tested the male dominance hierarchy for transitivity, and examined the rank order of individuals in relation to age and contraceptive treatment received. Additionally, we studied association patterns between males within the male population and with the female herds. Findings suggest that the treatment of one individual with GnRH suppressant is affecting the rank order of the dominance hierarchy, though it is still transitive, yet fluid (Landau's linearity index h= 0.7), as expected in a normal elephant population. Between males, association patterns were found to be weak. However, some males had relatively strong associations with the female herds, with association indices between 0.25 and 0.41. This suggests that the reduction on births is resulting in the males spending atypically large amounts of time with the female herds. The future conservation implications of this population control mechanism are discussed. © 2014 The Authors.