Spatial geochemistry influences the home range of elephants

Fiona Sach, Lisa Yon, Michelle D. Henley, Anka Bedetti, Peter Buss, Willem Frederik de Boer, Ellen S. Dierenfeld, Amanda Gardner, Simon C. Langley-Evans, Elliott Hamilton, Murray Lark, Herbert H.T. Prins, Anthony M. Swemmer, Michael J. Watts*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review

12 Citations (Scopus)


The unique geochemistry surrounding the Palabora Mining Company (PMC) land may act as a micronutrient hotspot, attracting elephants to the area. The PMC produces refined copper and extracts phosphates and other minerals. Understanding the spatial influence of geochemistry on the home range size of African elephants is important for elephant population management and conservation. The home ranges of collared elephants surrounding the PMC were significantly smaller (P = 0.001) than conspecifics in surrounding reserves, suggesting that their resource needs were met within these smaller areas. Environmental samples (soil, water and plants) were analysed from the mine area and along six transects radiating from the mine centre. Tail hair and faecal samples from elephants at the PMC, and conspecifics within the surrounding area were analysed. All samples were analysed for minerals essential to health and potentially toxic elements (PTEs; As, Ca, Cd, Cu, Fe, K, Mg, Mn, Na, P, Pb, Se, U, V and Zn). Results show that the geochemistry at the PMC is different compared to surrounding areas, with significant elevations seen in all analysed minerals and PTEs in soil closer to the mine, thereby drawing the elephants to the area. Additionally significant elevations were seen in elements analysed in water and vegetation samples. Elephant tail hair from elephants at the mine was significantly greater in Cd, whilst Mg, P, Cu, As, Cd, Pb and U concentrations were significantly greater in elephant faecal samples at the mine compared to the non-mine samples. When micronutrient hotspots overlap with human activity (such as mining), this can lead to poor human-elephant coexistence and thus conflict. When managing elephant populations, the influence of mineral provision on elephant movement must be considered. Such detailed resource information can inform conservation efforts for coordinated programmes (UN SDGs 15 and 17) and underpin sustainable economic activity (UN SDG 8, 11 and 12).

Original languageEnglish
Article number139066
JournalScience of the Total Environment
Publication statusPublished - 10 Aug 2020


  • Elephant movement
  • Loxodonta africana
  • Minerals
  • Mining
  • Potentially toxic elements


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