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Keywords:

  • dung counts;
  • genetic tagging;
  • genetic censusing;
  • microsatellites;
  • molecular scatology;
  • noninvasive sampling

Abstract

African forest elephants are difficult to observe in the dense vegetation, and previous studies have relied upon indirect methods to estimate population sizes. Using multilocus genotyping of noninvasively collected samples, we performed a genetic survey of the forest elephant population at Kakum National Park, Ghana. We estimated population size, sex ratio and genetic variability from our data, then combined this information with field observations to divide the population into age groups. Our population size estimate was very close to that obtained using dung counts, the most commonly used indirect method of estimating the population sizes of forest elephant populations. As their habitat is fragmented by expanding human populations, management will be increasingly important to the persistence of forest elephant populations. The data that can be obtained from noninvasively collected samples will help managers plan for the conservation of this keystone species.