Ramboll is assisting QGMI, a global infrastructure specialist, with biodiversity management and action for the Bolgatanga-Bawku-Pulmakom road rehabilitation project in the upper east region of Ghana. Elephant investigations reveal continued use of the Red Volta corridor, from which the species had been believed to be lost.
Elephant population historically recorded as lost
For the last 30 years, studies of elephant use within the Red Volta corridor has shown a continual decrease in activity. Between 2005 and 2007, no elephants were recorded in the area, resulting in the Red Volta corridor being recorded as “doubtful range” and “population lost” in the 2016 International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) African Elephant Status Report. There were, however, local reports of the continued presence of elephant in the area.
Ramboll was engaged to undertake a review of an elephant movement corridor along the Red Volta river, which was reported to cross the project area.
Designing specific surveys
Ramboll undertook a desk study, which indicated a declining trend in elephant use of the Red Volta corridor, but also revealed that a small number of elephants persisted in the area, occasionally crossing the border into Ghana from Burkina Faso.
Since this migratory corridor was intersected by the road rehabilitation works, Ramboll recommended and oversaw a specific survey to confirm the continued use by elephants of the Red Volta corridor and to estimate numbers. The survey aimed to gather baseline data on sections of the road most frequently crossed, the seasonality of crossing and elephant-traffic encounters, to determine the most appropriate mitigation.
Bringing in leading regional experts
Ramboll recommended and brought the client together with leading elephant specialist Professor Emmanuel Danquah from the Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology (KNUST) to conduct these surveys. KNUST was also commissioned, under the supervision of Ramboll, to undertake a more comprehensive general biodiversity baseline study along the length of the road.
From lost to found
The results showed a higher degree of elephant activity along the Red Volta corridor than had been apparent from the desk study alone, with a population of 60 to 107 elephants using the area, particularly within the Red Volta forest reserves, which suggests that the population in the area may be on the rise.
The findings suggest that elephants in the Red Volta and adjacent Zabré area in Burkina Faso function as a single population and may be connected with populations further north and west. Zabré has historically been assessed by IUCN as a separate input zone for elephant population estimates.
Informing biodiversity management and action plans
Ramboll has used the study results to inform the Biodiversity Management and Action Plans for the project and continues to work with the client to undertake further studies, including genetically characterising the elephants using DNA from dung samples, because there is some dispute about which species the elephants belong to.
The IUCN had previously classified African elephants as one species, however the March 2021 update to the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species reclassified them into two species – Forest elephants (Loxodonta cyclotis) and Savannah elephants (Loxodonta africana). According to the new assessment, the Red Volta population sits in the critically endangered Forest elephant group; however local experts remain convinced that the population belongs to the endangered Savannah elephant group. QGMI will, with Ramboll’s assistance, continue to support KNUST-led research in the area, including work in collaboration with the IUCN African Elephant Specialist Group Taxonomic Task Force, to conduct genetic analyses.
Ramboll is also overseeing collaboration between KNUST and the Forestry Commission of Ghana, in order to improve elephant habitat within the Red Volta forest reserve and to address the ongoing issues of human-elephant conflict.