The impact of elephants, loxodonta African, on woody vegetation in relation to watering points in Tsavo east national park, Kenya
Understanding the relationship between the watering points and elephant impacts on woody vegetation in relation to proximity to these watering points is important in conservation of the elephants particularly their habitat. The study investigated the impact of elephants on woody vegetation around the watering points in Tsavo East National Park, Kenya. It involved evaluating the distribution of elephants in relation to proximity to the watering points, identifying of the major routes utilized by the elephants while accessing the watering points, characterizing woody vegetation along transects from the watering points and evaluating the level of utilization of woody plants along the transects. The study was done between March, 2011 to August, 2011 a period that covered a distinct dry season and wet season. Eight watering points were sampled and plots along 7 km transects from each watering point sampled. The major elephant trails were tracked within a predetermined distance of 7 km from each watering points. A significant positive correlation was observed between the density of woody plants and the distance from the watering points (rho = 0.41, df = 108, p < 0.01). Woody plants decreased with nearness to the watering points. Dead stumps revealed significant (R = - 0.27, df = P < 0.05) decrease with increased distance from the water points. Elephants (66.6 %) were found to prefer staying near drinking watering points and permanent river (≤ 1 km) especially during the dry season. There was a significant decrease in elephant numbers with increased distance from the drinking water points in dry season (rho = -0.41, df = 62, p < 0.001) and non significant decrease in wet season (rho= -0.19, df=62, p > 0.05). The concentration of elephants has resulted to the destruction of woody vegetation around watering points. Thus, in order to ensure conservation and restoration of woody plants, water points should be provided in strategic points within the park and maintenance of the existing watering points should be done in order to distribute elephants and avoid over utilization of some watering points.