African elephants (Loxodonta africana) are ecosystem engineers in that they substantially alter the environment through their unique foraging and feeding habits. At high densities, elephants potentially have negative impacts on the environment, specifically for large trees. Because of this, recent increases of elephants in the Associated Private Nature Reserves (APNR) on the western boundary of the Kruger National Park (KNP), South Africa, have caused concern regarding the survival of several tree species. Our objective was to assess the effectiveness of wrapping protective wire netting around the trunk of the tree for preventing and reducing bark stripping, branch breaking, and felling by elephants. We assessed 2668 trees – 1352 Sclerocarya birrea (marula), 857 Acacia nigrescens (knobthorn), and 459 Lannea schweinfurthii (false marula) – for elephant impact in the APNR, 1387 (52%) of which had previously been wrapped in protective wire netting (789, 548 and 50, respectively). Wire netting was effective in reducing the severity of bark stripping and the relative proportion of trees that were bark stripped. In addition, wire netting had an effect on the level of impact, with a higher relative frequency of wire-net-protected trees found in lower impact categories compared with unprotected trees. Since tree mortality has been attributed to high levels of elephant impact, the use of wire netting could serve to maintain individual trees or populations particularly vulnerable to elephant impact in areas with locally high densities of elephants. Conservation implications: Since wire netting is a relatively low cost and ecologically unobtrusive strategy, it could be used to reduce elephant impact in problem areas. This method focuses on protecting trees rather than some other strategies such as environmental manipulation, translocation, contraceptives, and culling that instead focus on reducing elephant numbers.


Animal Sciences | Animal Studies | Biology | Ecology and Evolutionary Biology | Life Sciences | Social and Behavioral Sciences