Water provisioning in Kruger National Park alters elephant spatial utilisation patterns


A. Purdon, R.J. van Aarde Journal of Arid Environments

Date Published
Water provisioning is a controversial yet common practice and its consequences for wildlife and vegetation have fuelled well-worn debates. Contradictory opinions exist on the effect of water provisioning on elephant abundance and distribution. Here, we evaluated how water utilisation patterns, water source type, and availability affect the spatial utilisation patterns of elephants in Kruger National Park. We segmented the seasonal movement paths of 26 elephant breeding herds into trips, defined as segments of the trajectory that occur between two consecutive visits to water sources. We classified the trips as natural or artificial depending on the start and end water source. Elephants visited rivers more often than artificial waterholes. The probability of visiting water was highest during the hot afternoon and most trips lasted less than 36 h. Artificial waterholes made trips further from rivers potentially less costly, and for a third of the total area traversed by elephants, they visited waterholes instead of rivers. Additionally, artificial waterholes may increase the intensity of use in some areas. Water provisioning in Kruger alters elephant spatial utilisation patterns. Removing artificial waterholes in Kruger might reduce the area traversed and educe spatio-temporal variability in how elephants utilise space, a desirable outcome for conservation management.