Fragmentation of Asia's remaining wildlands: implications for Asian elephant conservation

Authors


All correspondence to: Peter Leimgruber, Conservation & Research Center, 1500 Remount Road, Front Royal, VA 22630 USA. Tel: +1-540-635-6559; Fax: +1-540-635-6506; E-mail: Leimgruberp@crc.si.edu

Abstract

Habitat loss and fragmentation are main causes for Asian elephant population declines. We mapped wildlands - large, unfragmented and undeveloped areas - asking: (1) Where are the largest wildlands that constitute elephant habitats? (2) What proportion of these wildlands is protected? (3) What is their potential for elephant conservation? Our study demonstrates that wildlands constitute only 51% of the Asian elephant range. Myanmar has the largest wildland (∼170,000 km2), followed by Thailand and India. In Principal Components Analysis (PCA), the first two components explained 73% of the variation in fragmentation among ranges. We identified three fragmentation clusters from the PCA. Cluster A contains large ranges with unfragmented wildlands; cluster B includes ranges with well-developed transportation networks and large human populations; and cluster C contains ranges with severely fragmented wildlands. In cluster A, we identified four ranges with elephant populations >1000 animals: ARYO, MYUC, BNMH and BITE. Together with ranges that support >1000 elephants in cluster B, these A ranges have great potential for long-term elephant conservation. We propose that fragmentation clusters and population size can be used to identify different elephant monitoring and management zones.

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