Population characteristics and habitat suitability of Asian elephants (Elephas maximus Linnaeus, 1758) in the Khao Yai National Park, Thailand

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The aim of this study was to investigate the population and habitat of wild elephants in the Khao Yai National Park, to provide elephant population densities using the line transect method. Habitat suitability was also assessed based on the data obtained from the location of the species during monthly ranger patrol across the park area, with the rate of dung decay used for population calculation. The population structure and age class were studied by direct observation to estimate the population trend. On the basis of 116 systematic transect lines that were 2 km in length and separated by 500-m intervals, a total of 1,209 elephant dung piles were found in more than 213.20 km. The analysis of the combined data showed that the dung density was 531.49 dung piles/km2, with a decay rate of 0.0039 dung piles/day based on 56 dung piles checked every 7 days. The annual data showed that the population density was 0.15 individuals/km2. The population structure comprising calf:juvenile:subadult:adult was 1: 1.09:1.14:2.10; the sex ratio of adult male to adult female elephants was 1:1.10; and the ratio of reproductive ability among adult females, juveniles, and calves was 1.00:0.99:0.90. The combined data also showed that the main environmental factor affecting the presence of the animals was salt lick sites. The pooled data analysis found that the habitat most suitable for the elephants covered an area of 220.59 km2. The habitat suitability, based on the dry season appearance data, covered an area of 258.64 km2, whereas during the wet season, it covered an area of 517.45 km2. As the most suitable habitat for elephants appears around the park boundary, habitat improvements for wild elephants should address the central areas of the national park. A greater emphasis should be placed on creating salt licks, being far from human activity sites.

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