Wildlife populations occur in increasingly fragmented landscapes, making corridor ecology important to conservation managers. Human disturbance has been identified as a proximate cause of limiting corridor use or increasing streaking behavior by wild elephants, but there are likely to be physiological triggers that directly initiate these risk averse behaviors. We simultaneously monitored elephant stress hormone concentrations and movement in two reserves to test whether elephants in an elevated physiological state restricted use of corridors, or, if they still used corridors, exhibited relatively rapid unidirectional movements indicative of streaking behavior. Contrary to predictions, the elephant population in an elevated physiological state did not reduce use of corridors between core areas. However, as predicted, when the population was in an elevated physiological state, elephant family groups exhibited less tortuosity, and moved 77% faster when in corridors as opposed to core areas, compared to only a 20% difference between corridor and core area speed when not in an elevated physiological state. Rapid movement along corridors by elephants in elevated physiological states is likely an adaptive behavioral response to avoid further exposure to stressors. Furthermore, because chronically stressed elephants can be more aggressive towards humans, understanding when and where elephants exhibit streaking behavior can guide human-elephant conflict mitigation. We demonstrate that corridor use can exist at relatively fine spatial scales within fenced reserves, and the persistent use of corridors regardless of physiological state suggests that they are likely an important, but neglected, component of animal spatial ecology within reserves.
- Loxodonta africana
- Stress hormones