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News Article

Safari tourists are harming elephants’ health and causing them stress

Research by Liverpool John Moores University shows increased aggression in elephants

New research suggests safaris could be damaging to African elephants’ health and wellbeing. The trend for getting as close as possible to the wild animals, rather than observing from a safe distance is causing them undue stress. The animals were more likely to be aggressive to herd members when people are close by.

The study published in Journal of Zoology, reveals elephants were more like to perform aggressive behaviour towards other elephants when safari vehicles were present. They also showed more aggression towards vehicles and people when under ‘tourist pressure’- when up to 3 game drive vehicles were present. The elephants also chose to move away from feeding areas when the vehicles arrived, even when they were settled.

The study followed 26 individuals over the course of 15 months to account for seasonal behaviour changes and stresses. The research took place in Madikwe Game Reserve, a private game reserve with one of the highest African elephant concentrations in South Africa. The study showed that male elephants were more prone to aggressive behaviour but also moving away from vehicles than females, but in all cases negative behaviour was consistent with tourist pressure.

The lead author of the study Isabelle Szott, of Liverpool John Moores University, said: “tourists who wish to observe animals in their natural habitat should be aware of their potential negative effects on animal welfare and research should investigate best practise standards to minimise such negative effects”.

Previous studies have looked at the tourism impact on animal behaviour, particularly in Asian elephants and sealions. They too showed similar behaviour when faced with increasing tourist pressure (Ranaweerage et al 2015). Other studies in Africa found Rhinos produced similar behaviour: fear, aggression, agitation and stress, when there were observation vehicles (Lott,D.F. &McCoy, M.1995).

Szott and team’s study makes several suggestions “that reserves should monitor elephant behaviour to identify when tourist pressure has potential effects on elephant welfare and train guides to monitor behaviour and adjust minimum distances flexibly to ensure high welfare standards and tourist safety”.


Lott, D.F. & McCoy, M. (1995). Asian rhinos Rhinoceros unicornis on the run? Impact of tourist visits on one population. Biol. Conserv. 73, 23–26.

Ranaweerage, E., Ranjeewa, A.D.G. & Sugimoto, K. (2015). Tourism‐induced disturbance of wildlife in protected areas: a case study of free ranging elephants in Sri Lanka. Glob. Ecol. Conserv. 4, 625–631.

Szott, I. D., Pretorius, Y. and Koyama, N. F. (2019), Behavioural changes in African elephants in response to wildlife tourism. J Zool. doi:10.1111/jzo.12661


Article details

  • Author(s)
  • Jesslyn Thay
  • Date
  • 08 April 2019
  • Subject(s)
  • General Leisure and Recreation
  • Tourism