A ghost fence-gap: surprising wildlife usage of an obsolete fence crossing
Kaaria, Timothy N.
MacDonald, Suzanne E.
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Wildlife fencing has become more prevalent throughout Africa, although it has come with a price of increased habitat fragmentation and loss of habitat connectivity. In an effort to increase connectivity, managers of fenced conservancies can place strategic gaps along the fences to allow wildlife access to outside habitat, permitting exploration, dispersal and seasonal migration. Wildlife can become accustomed to certain movement pathways and can show fidelity to these routes over many years, even at the path level. Our study site has three dedicated wildlife crossings (fence-gaps) in its 142 km perimeter fence, and we continuously monitor these fence-gaps with camera-traps. We monitored one fence-gap before and after a 1.49 km fence section was completely removed and 6.8 km was reconfigured to leave only a two-strand electric fence meant to exclude elephant and giraffe, all other species being able to cross under the exclusionary fence. The removal and reconfiguration of the fence effectively rendered this fence-gap (which was left in place structurally) as a “ghost” fence-gap, as wildlife now had many options along the 8.29 km shared border to cross into the neighboring habitat. Although we documented some decline in the number of crossing events at the ghost-gap, surprisingly, 19 months after the total removal of the fence, we continued to document the usage of this crossing location by wildlife including by species that had not been previously detected at this location. We discuss potential drivers of this persistent and counterintuitive behavior as well as management implications.
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