Effects of poaching on bull mating success in a free ranging African elephant (Loxodonta africana) population in Tarangire National Park, Tanzania
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- Ishengoma, D.R.S., Shedlock, A.M., Foley, C.A.H. et al. Conserv Genet (2008) 9: 247. doi:10.1007/s10592-007-9332-0
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Poaching and habitat encroachment for human settlement are the two major factors that caused contraction of elephant populations in Africa. While the effects of poaching on many aspects of elephant social systems have been studied, the impacts on mating patterns are not yet understood and such information is still lacking in most African countries. In this study, we used elephant specific-microsatellite DNA to generate genotypes from 86 elephant samples (84 fresh faeces and two tissue samples) from Tarangire National Park (TNP), Tanzania to assess the mating success of individual males. We also tested whether the oldest bulls are more likely to sire most of the offspring in a severely poached population. Genetic paternity analysis was compared to behavioural observations of matings collected over a 3-year period (1998–2001) to determine the success of bull mating strategy. The genotypes of 26 infants, their known mothers and 10 out of 43 potential breeding bulls in TNP were used to assign 31% of the offspring at 80% confidence level to their potential fathers with simulation assuming that 23% (10/43) of the breeding males were sampled. Mating success of individual bull based on both behavioural and genetic data showed that the oldest remaining bulls performed most of the matings and fathered the majority of infants. We speculate that the lifetime fitness of bulls that have survived poaching may be elevated because their period of dominance increases.