A Phased Approach to Increase Human Tolerance in Elephant Corridors to promote ecosystem connectivity

Thorge Heuer
Published: 08 August 2023
Last edited: 11 October 2023
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Pathfinding elephants are moving through human-dominated landscapes, often across international boundaries. By doing so, they play a vital role in connecting Protected Areas (PAs) but also encounter Human-Elephant Conflict (HEC) that threatens lives and livelihoods. Our solution proposes a long-term strategy to conserve elephant corridors whilst incorporating the socio-economic needs of the people that share the landscape with them. GPS tracking of elephants across two transfrontier conservation areas flags where linking corridors exist and thus where to focus resources. We use innovative cafeteria-style experiments to understand which elephant-unpalatable plants would offer lucrative alternative income streams to farmers living in those HEC hotspots. Lastly, we combine food security and people’s safety by deploying Rapid Response Units and soft barriers to protect subsistence crops. This phased strategy enables the protection of bioregions to achieve biodiversity objectives at landscape scale.


East and South Africa
Scale of implementation
Grassland ecosystems
Marine and coastal ecosystems
Rangeland / Pasture
Temperate grassland, savanna, shrubland
Access and benefit sharing
Biodiversity mainstreaming
Connectivity / transboundary conservation
Ecosystem services
Erosion prevention
Food security
Genetic diversity
Habitat fragmentation and degradation
Health and human wellbeing
Indigenous people
Land management
Local actors
Poaching and environmental crime
Protected and conserved areas governance
Protected and conserved areas management planning
Science and research
Species management
Sustainable financing
Sustainable livelihoods
Traditional knowledge
Land and Forest degradation
Loss of Biodiversity
Ecosystem loss
Lack of access to long-term funding
Lack of alternative income opportunities
Physical resource extraction
Changes in socio-cultural context
Lack of food security
Lack of infrastructure
Lack of technical capacity
Poor governance and participation
Unemployment / poverty
Sustainable development goals
SDG 1 – No poverty
SDG 2 – Zero hunger
SDG 3 – Good health and well-being
SDG 5 – Gender equality
SDG 6 – Clean water and sanitation
SDG 8 – Decent work and economic growth
SDG 9 – Industry, innovation and infrastructure
SDG 10 – Reduced inequalities
SDG 12 – Responsible consumption and production
SDG 13 – Climate action
SDG 15 – Life on land
SDG 16 – Peace, justice and strong institutions
SDG 17 – Partnerships for the goals
Aichi targets
Target 1: Awareness of biodiversity increased
Target 2: Biodiversity values integrated
Target 3: Incentives reformed
Target 4: Sustainable production and consumption
Target 5: Habitat loss halved or reduced
Target 7: Sustainable agriculture, aquaculture and forestry
Target 10: Ecosystems vulnerable to climate change
Target 11: Protected and conserved areas
Target 12: Reducing risk of extinction
Target 13: Safeguarding genetic diversity
Target 14: Ecosystem services
Target 15: Ecosystem restoration and resilience
Target 16: Access to and sharing benefits from genetic resources
Target 17: Biodiversity strategies and action plans
Target 18: Traditional knowledge
Target 19: Sharing information and knowledge
Target 20: Mobilizing resources from all sources
Sendai Framework
Target 3: Reduce direct disaster economic loss in relation to GDP by 2030
Target 6: Enhance international cooperation to developing countries through adequate and sustainable support to complement their national actions for implementation of this Framework by 2030


Boane, Maputo Province, Mozambique


Human-Elephant Conflict is threatening the immediate physical safety of both elephants and humans, with fatalities occurring on either side. In addition, crop-raiding threatens livelihoods of subsistence farming communities living along wildlife corridors. If left unaddressed, important corridors linking fragmentised Protected Areas will be closed off, as elephants will avoid using corridors based on learnt fear or physical barriers (electric fences). This will result in declining elephant populations and have disastrous effects on all wildlife migrations between increasingly isolated protected areas. The IUCN’s Guidelines outline the importance of connected ecosystems to enable essential ecological functions such as migration, hydrology, nutrient cycling, pollination, seed dispersal, food security, climate resilience and disease resistance. The subsequent biodiversity loss would negate all economic advancements made in rural communities and accelerate negative impacts from climate change.


Rural communities living within and along wildlife corridors

Elephant & wildlife populations using wildlife corridors to migrate between Protected Areas

Protected Areas relying on ecosystem and economical (tourism) services from migrating wildlife

How do the building blocks interact?

Protecting African elephants and their habitat in bioregions requires a multidimensional and integrated approach of community engagement, knowledge creation and practical conservation action. This includes mapping elephant movements outside of protected areas to understand landscape connectivity, concentration of mitigation efforts in HEC hotspots, and experiments to evaluate alternative crops for communities affected by HEC.

A combination of hard barriers (electric fences) around small subsistence crop fields that do not prohibit the movement of elephants, with income-generating soft barriers (unpalatable crops with a market value, pollinated by beehive fences), can help mitigate conflicts over the long term; whilst a reactive Rapid Response Unit can ensure immediate safety in high-conflict areas. In crop-raiding hotspots identified through tracking data and reported information via RRUs, farmers can be encouraged to only farm with viable unpalatable crops with high market values and yields. Combining income-generating soft barriers, such as planting high-value crops with a mutually reinforcing relationship of pollination for beehive fences, promotes biodiversity outcomes and supports rural economies in and around wildlife corridor regions.


Short term: Human-Elephant Conflict (HEC) mitigation strategies resulting in reduced HEC:

  • Empowering community members to confidently and safely react to crop-raiding incidents
  • Decreased hostility amongst communities towards elephants, reducing the number of elephants “destroyed” by authorities or other
  • Decreased human and elephant fatalities from HEC
  • Safeguarding of livelihoods & food-security


Long term: increased movement of elephants between Protected Areas (PAs), promoting ecosystem connectivity:

  • Facilitating transfer of genetic traits between isolated PAs
  • Relief of pressure on biodiversity within isolated habitats, allowing seasonal habitat recovery.
  • Identifying suitable wildlife corridors, to be used for land-use planning, decreased deforestation rates, and expansion of PA coverage
  • Improving the socio-economic circumstances of communities living within/near the corridor, by decreasing dependence on dwindling natural resources:
    • Introducing income-generating alternative crops for income diversification
    • Mutually reinforcing alternative income streams from honey production and alternative crop cultivation
    • Work towards tourism strategies aimed at increasing the financial security in favour of conservation efforts
    • Promote the upskilling women into social role models
    • Community-building: watchtowers as centres for knowledge transfer of mitigation methods & alternative farming and income generation


Mozambique Wildlife Alliance

Mr. Mkwakwa represents the chief of a village situated in the Namaacha valley in southern Mozambique. He has been desperate to protect his community from repetitive elephant crop raiding, especially during the dry season. He has tried to install some solar lights on high poles in the hope that this will keep the elephants at bay. He has also tired to build natural green walls with Comniphora species on the border of the crops. None of his efforts have succeeded to the degree that he wanted to offer his community protection. As part of the Elephants Alive’ mitigation strategy we stayed in a nearby village to facilitate a training workshop on various soft barrier methods to protect crops. Representatives from South Africa, Tanzania, Mozambique and Kenya all came to share their expertise in terms of the erection of beehive fences, metal strip fences, chilli rag fences and the manufacturing of smelly elephant repellent and chilli bricks. The Chief and his wife were incredibly grateful that so many countries have pitched in to help try to solve their problems. Both Mr. Mkwakwa and his wife worked relentlessly with the teams to show both the team and his community how appreciative they all were of the assistance and guidance. He explained to us how hard things have been for them and how the elephants seem to always know when it is the right time to crop raid, just before they are ready to harvest. We explained to them how the honey will help pollinate their crops and that they can also get an additional income from the honey when it is ready for harvesting during the summer months. We mentioned that the bees function as security agents to his fields as elephants are scared of bees. We also mentioned that bees are in need of enough water. The Chief immediately set out to build a wonderful bee watering station. We explained that Elephants Alive would come back regularly to also train the community on growing plants that elephants avoid as yet another barrier to protect crops. Mr. Mkwakwa and his wife were beaming with gratitude and rushed to give us parting gifts of all that they had, shweshwe cloths and cassava roots. New friendships were formed along the journey to protect people’s safety and assets and the elephants were strangely at the centre of these bridges that were being formed between communities and people working across borders and following in the footsteps of elephants.

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