Futuristic climate change scenario predicts a shrinking habitat for the African elephant (Loxodonta africana): evidence from Hwange National Park, Zimbabwe

  • Kudzai Shaun MpakairiEmail author
  • Henry Ndaimani
  • Paradzayi Tagwireyi
  • Mark Zvidzai
  • Tinaapi Hilary Madiri
Original Article


The earth is gradually warming from greenhouse gases (GHG) and will likely exceed the 2 °C threshold envisioned by 2050. Species range shifts and extinction are imminent from the temperature increase, especially in human-dominated landscapes. Several regions are projected to become less habitable as a result of heat stress, reduced water availability, and other secondary effects (e.g., diseases). As such, the future of the African Elephant (Loxodonta africana) remains uncertain when pressure exists from habitat loss, poaching, and temperature anomalies. In this study, we tested whether there would be any change in the 2050 potential distribution of the African elephant in the Hwange National park, Zimbabwe. We used Stochastic Gradient Boosting (SGB) with elephant presence as response and distance from the park boundary, temperature seasonality, precipitation of the wettest month, land cover, and annual precipitation as predictor variables. Results showed that predicted elephant habitat will likely shrink by 40% in 2050 from the potential present range of 146.76 km2. Our model on the current potential habitat of elephants was successful (AUC = 0.76) as well as for the projected habitat using RCP 8.5 data (AUC = 0.87). Our findings are amongst the first to show the likely effect of projected climate on the potential distribution of elephants in a savannah ecosystem. Our results are suggest that the current potential habitat of the elephant is sensitive to anthropogenic interferences, but a changing climate will influence elephant distribution in the future.


Global change Climate change Isothermality Hwange National Park 



Data used in this study were collected during surveys funded by the “Great Elephant Census, a Paul G. Allen Project,” as part of a national survey of the African elephant in Zimbabwe. The surveys were conducted in partnership with the Zimbabwe Parks and Wildlife Management Authority.

Author contribution

KM and THM conceptualized the study. KM and HN helped with data processing and modeling. KM, HN, and PTK helped in the writing of the manuscript.

Funding information

The authors received no specific funding for this research.

Compliance with ethical standards

Conflict of interest

The authors declare that they have no competing interests.


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag GmbH Germany, part of Springer Nature 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Geography and Environmental ScienceUniversity of ZimbabweHarareZimbabwe
  2. 2.Zimbabwe Parks and Wildlife Management AuthorityHarareZimbabwe

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