A satellite perspective on the movement decisions of African elephants in relation to nomadic pastoralists

Isla Duporge* (Corresponding Author), Genevieve E. Finerty, Festus Ihwagi, Stephen Lee, Jane Wathika, Zijing Wu, David W. Macdonald, Tiejun Wang

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review

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The African savannah ecosystem is populated by nomadic pastoralists who herd livestock in the day and corral them at night in temporary enclosures, called bomas, to protect them. The number and distribution of bomas on the savannah is important from an ecological perspective and may have a significant impact on wildlife movement. However, no study has yet examined this relationship. Here, using very high-resolution satellite imagery from two time periods, we quanitified changes in boma distribution and density across an area of 3377 km2 in the Laikipia-Samburu ecosystem of northern Kenya between 2011 and 2019. To assess wildlife movement in relation to bomas, we used a GPS data set on African bush elephant Loxodonta africana movement from 27 collared matriarchs representing herds of 9–15, covering 112 467 hourly GPS fixes over 31 months between 2018 and 2020. Our results showed a more than 46% increase in the total number of human-built structures between 2011 and 2019, the majority of which were bomas, representing a 21.9% increase in human-modified land area. Elephants readily adjusted their foraging habits and itineraries in this habitat shared with humans, who were also nomadic in space and time. Assessing the night–day activity ratio, we found elephants move more nocturnally when in closer proximity to bomas, particularly during the dry season. This temporal separation means elephants avoid the times humans are active in and around bomas while still accessing required resources—water and forage. The temporal shift was stronger during the dry season when shared resources are scarce. Using daily travel distance as a metric, we show elephants moved further in closer proximity to bomas which was likely linked to the need to travel between forage patches. Given the rise in human settlements, understanding the consequences of animals' behavioral adjustments is critical to understand the long-term population viability of elephant populations.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)841-854
Number of pages14
JournalRemote sensing in ecology and conservation
Issue number6
Early online date10 Jun 2022
Publication statusPublished - 1 Dec 2022


  • Boma
  • GPS telemetry
  • Livestock
  • Loxodonta africana
  • Movement ecology
  • Savannah


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