Elephants rest more when the poaching risk is high and do not recover the lost time within a diel cycle

Festus IhwagiI* (Corresponding Author), A.K. Skidmore, Guillaume Bastille-Rosseau, Tiejun Wang, A.G. Toxopeus, Iain Douglas-Hamilton

*Corresponding author for this work

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Poaching for ivory has caused disturbances in the behaviour of elephants. The nature and magnitude of such disturbance are not yet fully understood. Here, we studied the daily activity cycles of 10 elephants tracked for a minimum of two years each in the Samburu ecosystem in Kenya. The elephants were tracked over a spatial or temporal gradient of poaching risk in their distribution area. Laikipia Samburu landscape is shared with humans and is a mosaic of land ownership and management practices, all of which lead to varied levels of illegal killing. Using movement data of elephants tracked on various dates between 2002 and 2016, we studied the daily activity cycle when they were in their different core areas. Using Generalized Additive Models, we found that elephants moved less around midday in high poaching areas. Despite the adaptive shift in activity times, elephants were moving for fewer hours per day in areas with higher risk, reducing total movement daily in risky areas or times. The elephants lost one hour daily from their usual movement time when they went into high-risk areas, which they did not compensate for despite increased activity at dawn and dusk. The level of illegal killing was the best explanatory variable for altering the activity cycle. We infer that such risk avoidance behaviour culminates in the potential reduction of foraging efforts in a risky area. A deficit in their activity time may have consequences for their social life, reproduction, or overall foraging success, aspects of elephant ecology that are not fully understood yet. We discuss the results in light of the increasing need for more fine-scale temporal analyses of the influence of risk on the diel activity of elephants for sites that achieve both movement data and verified records of causes of elephant deaths.
Original languageEnglish
Article numbere02911
JournalGlobal Ecology and Conservation
Early online date20 Mar 2024
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print/First online - 20 Mar 2024




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