The Central Limpopo River Valley elephant population is a cross border population on which very little scientific data pertaining to numbers, distribution and demographic status is available. The total range was determined using published literature, reports, postal questionnaires and interviews. Numbers and dry season distribution were determined by means of three total aerial counts in 2000, 2001 and 2004 of the sections of the total range in which elephants were reported. Totals of 1388, 1424 and 1339 were recorded with the highest numbers in all counts in the Botswana section of the study area. Four sub groups within the population were identified. Human settlements and the distribution of rivers and fencing appeared to be the major factors influencing distribution and movement. The population is highly mobile within the total range, and numbers fluctuate markedly in any given section, but numbers in the total range appear to have been increasing slowly at below 2% per annum and the range expanding slightly over the last 30 years. Additional range is being provided by the creation of a Trans Frontier Conservation Area. Movements were determined through ground observations within the study area and seem to follow the major rivers namely the Shashe, Ramokgwabane, Simukwe, Shashani, Tuli, Umzingwane and Limpopo rivers. The social and demographic status of the population was determined through ground observations as well as total aerial counts conducted within the Northern Tuli Game Reserve from 1976 to 2004. The study has shown that group sizes increase with an increase in rainfall (average mean group size of 56.524, SDE 77.388) and decrease during low rainfall periods (mean group size of 24.157, SDE 22.223). The age structure was determined from aerial photographs during August 2000 and showed a high percentage of adults and sub adults, with infants estimated at 3%. The approximate birth rate (1.5%) calculated for 2000 is balanced by an average natural mortality determined between 1999 and 2004 of 1.8%. The inter calf interval determined from known herds observed in the Northern Tuli Game Reserve was estimated at 3.94% and suggests that the long-term birth rate for the population should be higher than that for the year 2000. The difference between the combined natural and human induced mortality rates (~4%) and the birth rate suggested by the age structure and the inter calf interval (~6%) gives the ~2% long-term increase observed in the numbers. Human elephant interactions within the study area were determined through published literature and interviews with local residents. Elephants and humans interact in both a positive and negative manor and interactions are related to human land use practices within the area. Elephants were indicated as the major problem animal in farming areas, but the major draw card within tourism operations.
Dissertation (MSc (Wildlife Management))--University of Pretoria, 2008.