Current Biology July 2006 Vol. 16, Issue 14. R527-9
Understanding the behavioural decisions underlying animal movements is a major challenge. Here we report evidence for the importance of the abiotic terrain feature ‘gradient’ in guiding the movements of African savannah elephants (Loxodonta africana). Global Positioning System (GPS) tracking data overlaid onto digital elevation and surface gradient models show that elephants tend to avoid steep slopes. Energy calculations suggest that even minor hills are considerable energy barriers for heavy animals. Elephants are keystone animals in Africa and Asia, and effective conservation planning strategies must integrate a thorough knowledge of the range use and spatial requirements of these magnificent animals.