Using camera trap bycatch data to assess habitat use and the influence of human activity on African elephants (Loxodonta africana) in Kasungu National Park, Malawi

Robert Davis, Louise Gentle, William Mgoola, Emma Stone, Antonio Uzal, Richard Yarnell

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

3 Citations (SciVal)


African elephants (Loxodonta africana) are increasingly exposed to high levels of human disturbance and are threatened by poaching and human–elephant conflict. As anthropogenic pressures continue to increase, both inside and outside protected areas, understanding elephant behavioural responses to human activity is required for future conservation management. Here, we use bycatch data from camera trap surveys to provide inferences on elephant habitat use and temporal activity in Kasungu National Park (KNP), Malawi. The KNP elephant population has declined by ~ 95% since the late 1970s, primarily because of intensive poaching, and information on elephant ecology and behaviour can assist in the species’ recovery. Using occupancy modelling, we show that proximity to water is the primary driver of elephant habitat use in KNP, with sites closer to water having a positive effect on elephant site use. Our occupancy results suggest that elephants do not avoid sites of higher human activity, while results from temporal activity models show that elephants avoid peak times of human activity and exhibit primarily nocturnal behaviour when using the KNP road network. As key park infrastructure is located near permanent water sources, elephant spatiotemporal behaviour may represent a trade-off between resource utilisation and anthropogenic-risk factors, with temporal partitioning used to reduce encounter rates. Increased law enforcement activity around permanent water sources could help to protect the KNP elephant population during the dry season. Our findings highlight that camera trap bycatch data can be a useful tool for the conservation management of threatened species beyond the initial scope of research.
Original languageEnglish
Article number
JournalMammalian Biology
Publication statusPublished - 28 Nov 2022

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
This study was conducted in collaboration with Carnivore Research Malawi (CRM), Conservation Research Africa (CRA), and the Department of National Parks and Wildlife Malawi (DNPW). We thank DNPW and the Kasungu National Park management team and scouts for their continued collaboration and support; all the volunteers and staff at CRM for assisting with data collection and field support; and CRM for use of equipment and logistical support. This work was funded by Nottingham Trent University, Conservation Research Africa, Oklahoma Zoo, and Idea Wild. We are grateful to the anonymous reviewers for their valuable feedback.

Publisher Copyright:
© 2022, The Author(s).


  • Activity pattern
  • Large herbivore ecology
  • Occupancy modelling
  • Road ecology

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
  • Animal Science and Zoology


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