Trends in populations of elephant and other large herbivores in Gonarezhou National Park, Zimbabwe, as revealed by sample aerial surveys

For 30 years, regular aerial surveys in Zimbabwean protected areas were funded, designed and executed primarily to estimate elephant numbers. Other large herbivores were recorded, even though some species were not easily seen from the air in savannah woodlands. Population estimates for species other than elephant provided indices of abundance that could be used to determine temporal trends in population size. This study tests for significant trends in the abundance of large herbivores in Gonarezhou National Park, assuming that data from aerial sample surveys designed for elephant also provide accurate estimates of real trends in the populations of other herbivores. For each species, the exponential rate of population change was calculated using weighted regression, with the variance of this rate based on the sampling variances of the population estimates. Significant population trends were detected for eight species. Before the 1992 drought, elephant number was held approximately constant by frequent culls, but afterwards, it increased at a mean annual rate of 6.2% (confidence limits 4.0% and 8.6%). Elephants in cow herds increased at 7.3%, significantly faster than elephants in bull herds (-0.5%). Buffalo, eland, kudu, nyala, waterbuck, wildebeest and zebra all increased in number, after population declines during the drought.

Last Updated
January 27, 2021
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