Publication Date

Summer 2019

Advisor(s) - Committee Chair

Bruce A. Schulte (Director), Michael Stokes, Noah Ashley

Degree Program

Department of Biology

Degree Type

Master of Science


As charismatic megafauna and a flagship species, African elephants (Loxodonta africana) are vital to the African tourist economy. Conversely, high levels of wildlife tourism can induce behavioral shifts that push desired animals into less frequented areas and disrupt natural behaviors. In order to examine this trade-off, tourism levels and African elephant behaviors were studied in Zambezi National Park (ZNP) near Victoria Falls, Zimbabwe. Over the course of 14 weeks, in-person observations and camera traps in ZNP were used to collect geographic, demographic, and behavioral data from elephant sightings. As a proxy for human presence, geo-locational data were collected for each vehicle sighted in ZNP. These data of vehicles and elephants were mapped in ArcGIS to show a visual representation of their spatial relationship and identify high density and hotspot locations. Analyses from physical observations found that elephants were more frequently sighted in the park region with less vehicle traffic, as expected, but surprisingly also expressed more vigilance behaviors in that region. These results imply that elephants in high traffic regions become accustomed to vehicles but still avoid them when possible. Analyses from camera trap data revealed that only two of the six waterholes monitored had inversely related elephant and human presence, as predicted. There was no clear relationship between elephant and human presence. Future studies should account for habitat type differences in behavioral observations and compare elephant waterhole use in more heavily visited parks.


Behavior and Ethology | Biology | Ecology and Evolutionary Biology | Zoology