The socio-economic context of Human-Elephant Conflict in rural areas of Mozambique

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Chapter 2 A review of historical trends in the distribution and abundance of elephants Loxodonta africana in Mozambique


The elephant Loxodonta africana population of Mozambique has declined rapidly over the last 4 decades. Historical census data are incomplete but suggest that the impact of human activity on the elephant population increased after the onset of the colonial era. Demands for ivory explains the population decline from 1700 to 1940, and the killing of elephants as part of settlement policies and tsetse fly control programmes further reduced the populations from 1940 to 1960. Land transformation from 1900 onwards may also have contributed to the historical decline in elephant numbers. Our assessment suggests that landscape approaches should be explored in seeking to conserve elephants in modern Mozambique.
Keywords: Elephant, fragmentation, historical trend, ivory trade, Loxodonta africana, Mozambique, population


Historical accounts (Barreto, 1745; Rodrigues, 1917; Martinho, 1968; Pardal, 1996) suggest that elephants Loxodonta africana were once abundant throughout Mozambique. However, trophy hunting, poaching, civil war, tsetse fly control, agricultural development and pastoral expansion induced a sharp decline in elephant numbers (Smithers & Tello, 1976; Douglas-Hamilton, 1984; DNFFB, 1991). Consequently, elephants now exist in relatively small populations both beyond and within Conservation Areas administered by the Direcção Nacional das Áreas de Conservação (DNAC).
The decline of elephant numbers in Mozambique apparently started with the demand for ivory (Dias, 1971) and continued when elephants and other suspected vectors of tsetse-borne trypanosomiasis were eliminated from several regions as part of a programme to control tsetse flies (Dias & Rosinha, 1971; Smithers & Tello, 1976). Elephants were declared a pest in 1936 (Frade, 1950) and later cropped to feed the military (Frade, 1950; Dias, 1973). The establishment of plantations and agricultural development reduced and fragmented habitats and this may further have reduced elephant numbers (Manghezi, 2003). Poaching continues, as does the legal consumptive use through small-scale trophy hunting of elephants (Milliken, 2002; SRN, 2006).
These observations suggest that human activities reduced elephant numbers in Mozambique. Little information, however, is available on elephant numbers, distribution or demography. Few time series of population estimates exist and most estimates are guesses reported in official government reports and NGO documents. Here, however, we compile all available historical data to review the trends in elephant numbers across Mozambique. To establish if trends in numbers could be explained by socio-economic changes we collated historical information on the numbers of elephants and people living in Mozambique, data on the ivory trade and tsetse fly control campaigns, and information on the export of some agricultural products and recent land-use changes.

Study area

Mozambique covers c. 800,000 km2 along the east coast of southern Africa (Fig. 1a). The human population of 20.5 million people is increasing at c. 2.2 % per year (INE, 2007). Annual rainfall varies from 1,000 mm in the northern and southern provinces to 1,200 mm in the central provinces (Instituto Nacional de Meteorologia, 2007). The country consists of a series of isolated harbours and settlements, each surrounded by a belt of rural estates that traded with the independent hinterland when it became an overseas province of Portugal in 1890 (Liesegang, 1983). The present borders were drawn in 1891 (Hatton et al., 2001). Ivory and slaves were widely traded in the 16–19th centuries (Liesegang, 1983).
Dry and moist miombo woodlands are common in the northern and central provinces, and mopane woodlands dominate the Limpopo-Save region and the mid Zambezi valley (Hatton et al., 2001). The last two wars (1964–1974 and 1978–1992) devastated large mammal populations in areas of high biological and scenic value (Hatton et al., 2001). Currently c. 16,000 elephants (Blanc et al., 2007) live in five National Parks, five National Reserves, 13 Controlled Hunting Areas, one Forest Reserve, and in areas beyond protected areas (DNAC, 2006; Fig. 1b). The elephant population of Niassa National Reserve is the largest, with > 10,000 elephants in 2004 (Craig & Gibson, 2004).


Our primary sources of information on human densities, land-use change and the quantity of ivory exported since the 1700s include the National Archive of Mozambique’s History, the National Ultramarine Archive of Portugal, reports held by the former National Directorate of Wildlife Services (DNFFB), reports by NGOs operating in Mozambique, and the libraries of the University of Eduardo Mondlane, the University of Pretoria, South Africa, and the University of Zimbabwe. For information on elephant distribution and relative abundance we relied on descriptions of naturalist travellers, missionaries and professional hunters since the 1500s. Aerial reconnaissance and informed guesses formed the basis of the few elephant population estimates after 1900.
We addressed the historic trends in elephant numbers for the pre-colonial era (before 1500), the colonial era (1500-1975) and the post-colonial era (after 1975). For the pre-colonial era we relied on an interpretation of archaeological information. For the colonial era we found only three elephant censuses and derived likely trends in elephant numbers from records of exported ivory and on the number of elephants killed as part of the tsetse fly control programmes. For the post-colonial era we collated data from structured surveys (n=22) and guesses (n = 32).
We fitted exponential models (Caughley, 1977) to both human (extracted from national censuses) and elephant numbers to identify trends and rates of change since 1900. We used linear regression (Sokal & Rohlf, 1995) to determine if a relationship existed between people and elephant numbers. We examined trends in the ivory trade and agricultural products with available data from the 1700s to 1980, and changes in land use pattern and sizes of areas allocated to agriculture and forest exploitation over 1925-1975.

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The pre-colonial era

Our understanding of elephant distribution during this era is based on deductive speculation. Low human densities and relatively inefficient hunting may have allowed elephants to be relatively common and widely distributed over Mozambique (Klein, 1987; Owen-Smith, 1999). Paintings, engravings and excavated artefacts dating back to the Late Stone Age (Deacon, 1984) from archaeological sites in Mozambique (Silva, 1980; Adamowicz, 1987; Sinclair, 1987; Duarte, 1989) as well as the presence of pits, weighted spears and axes that were used to hunt (Duarte, 1989) and rock sketches of elephants in shelters (Dutton & Dutton, 1973; Adamowicz, 1987; Sinclair, 1991) suggest that elephants may have ranged throughout Mozambique (Lewis, 1987; Woodhouse, 1996; Eastwood & Blundell, 1999; Whyte et al., 2003). As elsewhere across southern Africa (Maggs, 1984) the transition from hunting and gathering to food production in Mozambique occurred during the Holocene (Stock & Pfeiffer, 2001; Adamowicz, 1987). By AD 500 people produced crops and kept domestic animals (Maggs, 1984) while living in small, scattered villages (Lee & Graham, 2006). The expansion of human populations and activities during the Iron Age (Harpending et al., 1993; Sherry et al., 1994) conceivably changed the environment, and increased hunting may have had a modest impact on elephants (Owen-Smith, 1999).

The colonial era

Elephant distribution and abundance in Mozambique changed when merchants arrived and started to supply guns (Gann, 1965). Market demand fuelled by the needs of the Islamic empire (Alpers, 1975) brought specialist and extensive elephant hunting expeditions into Mozambique during 1800-1875 (Hedges, 1978), and the ivory trade flourished at this time (Fig. 2) supporting the notion that elephants were then probably numerous and widespread (Sanderson, 1962; Shepperson, 1965; Bere, 1966; Selous, 1984; Adams & McShane, 1992). At this time c. 340,000 people were taken from Mozambique as slaves (Capela & Medeiros, 1987), most of them from north of the Zambezi River (Capela & Medeiros, 1987) where elephants apparently flourished (Shepperson, 1965; Maugham, 1914).
With the decline of the slave trade from 1845 (Capela & Medeiros, 1987) human numbers started to increase, and agricultural activities expanded and may have reduced elephant populations. From 1880 to 1920 copra and sugar exports increased (Fig. 2) and contributed greatly to revenue. In addition, from 1800 onwards, transport services to neighbouring territories and migrant labour gradually became more important economic activities (Liesegang, 1983). Land-use activities expanded from 1900 (Fig. 3d) and landscape fragmentation and/or loss of habitat may have compressed elephants into refuge areas (Lyell, 1910,1924; Maugham, 1914; Rodrigues, 1917; Dalquest, 1965) as noted elsewhere in Africa (Lee & Graham, 2006).
These refuge areas were mostly in the hinterland but a few were in the country’s coastal zones (Chamberlain, 1923). In some of these refuge areas such as the Niassa province, the Luabo district extending south of the Zambezi delta to the Shupanga forest and Cheringoma, and from Maputo to the Save River, elephant numbers increased from 1930 (RP, 1952) and their distribution expanded again but remained fragmented (Fig. 1c).
Official responses to apparent elephant range expansion and threats to crop production included the declaration of elephants as a pest species in 1936 (Frade, 1950). Further legalization of elephant killing through the replacement of the Conservation Act of 1955 with the Professional Meat and Ivory Hunting Act in 1960 (Dias, 1973; Smithers & Tello, 1976) formalized actions to reduce elephant numbers in areas beyond the protected areas established in the 1960s (Martinho, 1968). The establishment of these areas conceivably relieved elephants from formal and informal persecution and may have resulted in an increase in elephant numbers from the 1960s to 1970s (Dias, 1973).
From the 1960s onwards, elephants from Mozambique also dispersed to neighbouring countries. For example, elephants from Mozambique populated the Kruger National Park (Whyte et al., 2003) and elephants in the Chimanimani, Zumbo and Rovuma-Lugenda regions (Fig. 1a) migrated into Zimbabwe, Zambia and Tanzania (Dutton, 1975; Davies, 1999; Hofer et al., 2004). The liberation war of 1964–1974 further reduced elephant numbers when both Frente de Libertação de Moçambique and colonial troops killed elephants to feed soldiers and used ivory to fund their campaigns (Dias & Rosinha, 1971).

List of abbreviations and acronyms 
Table of contents
Chapter 1 General introduction
Chapter 2 A review of historical trends in the distribution and abundance of elephants Loxodonta
africana in Mozambique
Chapter 3 The socio-economic context of Human-Elephant Conflict in rural areas of Mozambique
Chapter 4 Socio-ecological and demographic factors associated with Human-Elephant Conflict in Mozambique
Chapter 5 The use of resource selection models to predict Human-Elephant Conflict in southern
Chapter 6 Predicting Human-Elephant Conflict (HEC) across Mozambique
Chapter 7 Conclusions

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