Biodiversity and Conservation

, Volume 19, Issue 8, pp 2235–2245 | Cite as

Elephant survival, rainfall and the confounding effects of water provision and fences

  • Adrian M. Shrader
  • Stuart L. Pimm
  • Rudi J. van Aarde
Original Paper


Elephant are increasing across some areas of Africa leading to concerns that they may reduce woodlands through their feeding. Droughts may help limit elephant numbers, but they are generally both episodic and local. To explore more general impacts of rainfall, we examine how its annual variation influences elephant survival across ten sites. These sites span an almost coast-to-coast transect of southern Africa that holds the majority of the ~500,000 remaining savanna elephants. Elephants born in high rainfall years survive better than elephants born in low rainfall years. The relationship is generally weak, except at the two fenced sites, where rainfall greatly influenced juvenile survival. In these two sites, there are also extensive networks of artificial water. Rainfall likely affects elephant survival through its influence on food. The provision of artificial water opens new areas for elephants in the dry season, while fencing restricts their movements in the wet season. We conclude that the combination of these factors makes elephant survival more susceptible to reductions in rainfall. As a result, elephants living in enclosed reserves may be the first populations to feel the impacts of global warming which will decrease average rainfall and increase the frequency of droughts. A way to prevent these elephants from damaging the vegetation within these enclosed parks is for managers to reduce artificial water sources or, whenever practical, to remove fences.


Elephants Fences Global warming Loxodonta africana Rainfall Water provision Survival 



We would like to thank the Botswana Department of Wildlife and National Parks, Namibia Ministry of Environment and Tourism, South African National Parks and the Zambian Wildlife Authority for allowing us to conduct the research within their parks and reserves. We thank the International Fund for Animal Welfare, the Peace Parks Foundation, the United States Fish & Wildlife Services and the National Research Foundation for funding. The University of Pretoria provided the postdoctoral fellowship for A.M. Shrader.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2010

Authors and Affiliations

  • Adrian M. Shrader
    • 1
    • 3
  • Stuart L. Pimm
    • 1
    • 2
  • Rudi J. van Aarde
    • 1
  1. 1.Conservation Ecology Research Unit, Department of Zoology and EntomologyUniversity of PretoriaPretoriaSouth Africa
  2. 2.Nicholas School of the Environment and Earth SciencesDuke UniversityDurhamUSA
  3. 3.School of Biological and Conservation SciencesUniversity of KwaZulu-NatalScottsvilleSouth Africa

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