Context. Understanding ranging behaviour and habitat selection of threatened species is crucial for the development of conservation strategies and the design of conservation areas. Our understanding of the actual needs of the critically endangered Sumatran elephant in this context is insufficient.
Aims. Provide reliable subspecies-specific information on home range size and habitat selection of Sumatran elephants.
Methods. Using both the new area-corrected autocorrelated kernel density estimation (AKDEC) and two commonly applied conventional methods, the home range sizes of nine Sumatran elephants were estimated. Elephant habitat selection was studied using Manly’s selection ratios.
Key results. AKDEC home ranges of adults ranged from 275 km2 to 1352 km2. Estimates obtained using conventional KDE and minimum convex polygon (MCP) ranged between 156 km2 and 997 km2. Overall habitat selection was significant for both slope and land-cover type, whereas individual preferences varied to some extent. On the basis of global selection ratios, we found natural forest, pulpwood plantations and gentle slopes (≤4°) to be significantly selected, whereas most areas affected by human activities and steeper slopes were avoided by the majority of animals included in the study.
Conclusions. As expected, AKDEC estimates were much larger than those obtained using conventional methods because conventional methods have a tendency to underestimate home range size when confronted with autocorrelated movement data and produce estimates that refer to the limited study period only, whereas AKDEC estimates include the predicted animal’s long-term space use. The extremely large AKDEC estimate obtained for a subadult male most likely represents a combination of population dispersal range and temporary home range rather than its final adult home range. Regardless, it appears that Sumatran elephants roam over much larger areas than previously assumed. Natural forests and relatively flat areas are of great importance for Sumatran elephants. The observed intensive use of pulpwood plantations by one individual is likely because of limited availability of alternative suitable habitats.
Implications. A landscape-wide approach to elephant conservation that takes large home ranges into account, is required, and should include forest protection and restoration and elephant friendly management of existing pulpwood concessions, with special focus on areas with relatively gentle slopes.