Density, distribution and habitat utilization patterns of Elephants(Loxodonta Africana, Blumenbaeh, 1797) in Southern Aberdare Ranges, Kenya
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The African elephant IS an endangered species over most of its range. Frequent monitoring of elephant numbers is critical to its conservation. Census of elephants in African savannah ecosystems involves aerial and ground counts while in the forested ecosystems, indirect methods of dung surveys are used. This study, which was undertaken in the southern part of the Aberdare range sought to determine the elephant densities, distribution, habitat utilization and the various human activities affecting elephants in the study area. Indirect sampling methods were used to assess elephant densities and numbers, as well as their distribution and habitat utilization patterns. The dung densities were highest in the moorland, followed by the bamboo and lowest in the sub-montane zone in both seasons. Elephants were equally distributed and highly utilized the bamboo and moorland habitat types throughout the year. The use of the sub-montane zone was influenced by season. Elephant dung decay rates differed significantly between the bamboo and sub-montane zones. The mean dung density was 5664.43 dung piles per km", while the mean elephant density was 3.33 elephants per krn", A total of two thousand and fifty three (2053) elephants were estimated for the study area irrespective of the season. Habitat utilization was found to be influenced by season and human activities. Elephants preferred the least disturbed bamboo and moorland zones while the sub-montane zone was utilized more in the wet season than in the dry season. The bamboo zone was the most preferred habitat type irrespective of the season with an index of habitat utilization of 1.00(100% occupancy) for both seasons. IX More than 51% of the Aberdare elephant population belongs to the reproductive age-classes of above ten years representing a growing elephant population. Illegal human activities such as charcoal burning among others are a great threat to the integrity of southern Aberdare ecosystem as an elephant habitat. Human activities were found to have profound effects on the distribution and habitat utilization patterns of elephants in the study area. If the integrity of southern Aberdare ecosystem as an elephant conservation area is to be maintained, then, proper management and conservation of the area is of utmost importance.