Does human activities affect stress level in Serengeti elephants (Loxodonta africana)?
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- Institutt for biologi 
African elephants play a vital role in the Serengeti ecosystem, with the opportunity to alter the entire ecosystem by their sheer number. Management of these animals with the ambition of improving their welfare is therefore of high importance. Defining and measuring animal welfare has been much discussed however, one potential way of determining an animal s welfare is the absence or presence of stress. Little research on the elephant welfare has been performed so far in Serengeti. The aim of the present study was to record the stress level of the African elephant (Loxodonta africana) in areas of different human interference, as well as some possible ecological factors. A total of 117 fecal samples were collected from randomly located singles and family herds in the northern, central and western Serengeti National Park (SNP) as well as Grumeti Game Reserve and Ikoma Open Area between March and July 2010. All samples were collected using a vehicle. The result showed that elephants had higher levels of fecal glucocorticoids metabolites in the high-risk areas outside SNP, compared to low-risk area inside SNP. The reason for the higher stress level in the high-risk areas are thought to be a result of long-ongoing hunting activity, which has led the animals to associate humans and vehicles to detrimental effects. This has probably triggered the development of anti-predator strategies in the elephants, such as avoidance of unprotected areas. However, no groups of single males were observed outside SNP. Additionally a generally higher abundance of elephants was observed inside compared to outside SNP. Overall these results suggest that elephants prefer to reside inside the protected area which for them are safe areas leading to low stress. This demonstrates the importance of protected areas to improve the welfare of elephants.