Elephants Choose to Stay Inside Safe, Less Stressful National Parks

Elephants living within the park’s boundaries are significantly less stressed than those living outside of its protective borders

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Elephants seem to know that people mean trouble, according to new research conducted around Serengeti National Park, a UNESCO World Heritage site in Tanzania. Elephants living within the park’s boundaries, scientists found, are significantly less stressed than those living outside of its protective borders. Accordingly, the BBC reports, more elephants choose to make a home within the park than outside of it.

Though national parks in Africa are under siege by rampant poaching for elephant’s valuable tusks, parks do offer some protection from the threats of illegal hunting and habitat disturbance. Serengeti National Park contains no fences, however, so people and animals can come and go from its nearly 15,000 square kilometer expanse.

The new study aimed to see how elephants were doing within the park and in adjacent game reserves where human disturbance is greater. Rather than bother the elephants, scientists used the animals’ dung as a proxy for gaging stress levels. Animals outside of the park, they found, had higher levels of the stress hormone gluccorticoid than those living within its boundaries.

More elephants lived with the park, and researchers did not find evidence of single males roaming outside of the park. The researchers suspect that elephants may have learned to associate areas outside of the park with vehicles and hunting activities.

“I think elephants know where they are safe or not. However, sometimes they also are tempted by nice food outside the park which attracts them to such areas,” the researchers told BBC.

The researchers hope the study results will show park officials and decision makers that protected areas do indeed improve welfare for animals such as elephants.

“The elephant population in Africa is presently declining at an alarming rate,” the researchers said. “The world must find interest in it, if not there will be very few or no elephants in Africa in about five to six years.”

More from Smithsonian.com:

14 Fun Facts About Elephants
Saving Mali’s Migratory Elephants

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