In sensitive dryland regions where surface water resources are scarce, limiting the access of elephants and other wildlife to water through human development can impact water quality and, potentially, human health, researchers report in the journal PLOS ONE. “Loss of habitat and limitation of wildlife access to rivers and floodplains in water-restricted regions may increase the impact of species on surface water resources,” said doctoral student J. Tyler Fox.

Fox and Professor Kathleen Alexander evaluated water quality dynamics over a three-year period in the Chobe River in Northern Botswana, reporting that significant relationships were found in the dry season between increased concentrations of Escherichia coli, flood plain habitat, protected land use, and fecal counts from elephants and other wildlife along the banks of the river. In contrast to the dry season, wet season E. coli was only associated with suspended solid matter in the water, suggesting storm water and sediment runoff may significantly influence E. coli loads during that season.

Availability and access to surface water resources should be considered a priority in the design and ensure available surface water resources are able to sustainably support both human and animal needs, they concluded. “Our findings have important implications to land-use planning in southern Africa’s dryland river ecosystems,” Alexander said.

Read the full press release.