Remnant Asian elephant populations at risk in China

The Asian elephant is at risk of extinction due to anthropogenic pressures, and remaining populations are often small and fragmented remnants, occupying a fraction of the species’ former range. Once widely distributed across China, fewer than 250 elephants are estimated to survive across seven small populations. We assessed the Asian elephant population in Nangunhe National Nature Reserve in Lincang Prefecture, China using camera traps between May to July 2017, to estimate the population size and structure of this genetically important population. Our results indicate that the reserve supported a total population size of approximately 20 individuals with an effective density of 0.39 elephants per km2. Social structure indicated a strong sex ratio bias towards females, with only one adult male detected within the population. Most of the elephants associated as one herd but three adult females remained separate from the herd throughout the trapping period. These results highlight the fragility of remnant elephant populations such as Nangunhe. Building on Marwell’s experience with species population management, we suggest options such as a managed metapopulation approach for their continued survival in China and more widely. 

This research was primarily conducted by Lauren Hale under the joint MRes Wildlife Conservation degree from the University of Southampton and Marwell Wildlife and in partnership with The Wildlife Institute in the School of Nature Conservation, Beijing Forestry University, and Eco-Bridge Continental NGO in China. 

The full paper was recently published in the journal Oryx: Hale, L.J., Kun, S., Gilbert, T.C., Peh, K.S.-H. & Riordan, P. (2019) Social structure and demography of a remnant Asian elephant (Elephas maximus) population and the implications for survival. Oryx:

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