On February 22, 2018, Dr. Blandine Marie Ivette Nacoulma - a Fulbright Scholar from University Ouaga 1 Professor Joseph KI-ZERBO serving at University of California, Davis as an Assistant Professor of Environmental Science – presented “Why do elephants attack Baobab trees in protected areas of Burkina Faso? Toward the elaboration of a strategy for species conservation.” This presentation was a join presentation of SUNY ESF’s Advaptive Peaks Seminar Series and the Women in Scientific and Environmental Professions Speaker Series. The Department of Environmental and Forest Biology Department sponsored the seminar with the Fulbright Outreach Lecturing Fund and the ESF Women’s Caucus.
Dr. Nacoulma discussed a variety of characteristics of Baobab trees that may indicate a high likelihood of elephant attack, in which the tree is debarked to some degree, including bark texture, bark color, tree shape, and diameter at breast height (dbh). The research area consisted of a group of protected areas or parks with various management plans in Eastern Burkina Faso. As this research is ongoing, final conclusions were not presented.
The presentation began with extensive background information regarding the setting of this research: Dr. Nacoulma’s home country, Burkina Faso, which is a landlocked country in Western Africa. Dr. Nacoulma also provided a primer on the country’s “Big Two” species. Elephants and Baobab trees are “charismatic flagship and keystone species” important to ecology and economy of the region, and “indirectly in conflict.” The Baobab trees surveyed for Dr. Nacoulma’s research were found within three adjacent protected areas in Eastern Burkina Faso, each within a different ecological zone and with a corresponding management plans: Arli National Park, W Burkina Faso National Park, and Pama Reserve. In these areas, debarking of Baobab trees by elephants has been observed repeatedly. Only one other study exploring this phenomenon has been completed in Western Africa.
Dr. Nacoulma’s research utilized feedback and input from local people to identify distinct characteristics of Baobab trees, including bark texture (smooth, rough, and cracked), bark color (pink, white, dark, and intermediate), tree shape (“broom”, flattened, round, and “sunshade”), and tree size (dbh). Tree size was the only characteristic that had a noticeable correlation to debarking, in that larger trees were more likely to have been attacked. No other measured characteristics had significant correlation to elephant attacks, indicating that these characteristics do not predispose the trees to attack. Nutrient analyses are still underway.
Local people provided potential reasons that elephants attack Baobab trees, including for a nutritional supplement, as a source of water, because of a need to destroy, and because elephants compete with Baobab trees to be the largest organism on the landscape. Finally, local people gave suggestions on how to address the problem and protect the trees, including fencing in each tree, providing additional water holes for elephants, planting more Baobab trees, and culling the elephant population.
During the discussion the day prior and the reception following her presentation, Dr. Naclouma shared many interesting stories about her country’s economy and the financial benefits of Baobab trees. It is obvious that Baobab trees facing threats from the unsustainable tourism and illegal hunting which very common in Africa.
Dr. Nacoulma holds a Ph.D. in Plant Biology and Ecology from the University of Ouagadougou, where she focuses on the diversity, production, uses, ethno-ecology, ethnobotany and conservation of indigenous trees important for the livelihood of rural communities in Burkina Faso. Dr. Nacoulma is studying the functional traits of the baobab as a baseline for its conservation.
The next presentation in the WiSE Professions series will be March 27, 2018 with Dr. Christine O’Connell of the Alan Alda Center for Communicating Science “Communicating science to the public.” For more information about the WiSE Professions Series, please visit http://www.esf.edu/womenscaucus/Speakers.htm or the SUNY ESF’s Women’s Caucus at http://www.esf.edu/womenscaucus/.
As part of the requirements of FOR496/797 Perspectives on Career and Gender, students share responsibility for reporting on the Women in Scientific and Environmental Professions Speaker Series. The preceding was prepared by: Xue Dong, PhD student in Environmental and Forest Biology; Megan Gorss, a BS student majoring in Natural Resources Management, in the Department of Forest and Natural Resources Management Department; and Colin Mettey, a MS student focusing on Ecology in the Department of Environmental and Forest Biology.