The Selous Game Reserve in the south of Tanzania is home to 60 percent of Africa’s elephants. Among the largest undisturbed, protected areas in Africa, it has also become one of Africa’s elephant “killing fields.” Those on the front lines studying elephant behavior witness the alarming effect poaching has had on the elephants that survive. This clip from the National Geographic film Battle for the Elephants documents the disturbing changes in elephant behavior, including dramatic displays of fear and increased agitation, stress, and aggression in the presence of humans.

Scientists who study elephant behavior agree that survivors of poaching are stressed. Their fears can disrupt the elephants’ complex matriarchal social structure, reduce their success in breeding, and increase their antagonism toward humans. Elephants mourn their deceased companions, demonstrating rituals that include touching the remains and carrying the deceased elephant’s bones or tusks with them.

  1. Where is the Selous Game Reserve, and why is it referred to as Africa's elephant "killing fields?"

    • Answer

      The Selous is located in southern Tanzania. DNA testing has confirmed that much of the poached ivory coming into Dar Es Salaam, Tanzania’s largest city, for smuggling to countries around the world originates in the Selous, which is home to sixty percent of Africa’s elephants.

  2. Why is the change in elephant behavior an area of concern for scientists and elephant advocates?

    • Answer

      The change in elephant behavior in the Selous Game Reserve signals a critical disruption in the elephants’ complex social structure—a structure that maintains the health and well-being of the elephant families and groups. As the elephants’ social structure breaks down, their chances for successful breeding decrease, further reducing the animals’ chances of survival. Fear replaces the animal’s natural curiosity and sociability. Many feel that poaching, along with the residual effects of poaching on surviving animals, may lead to the extinction of the African elephant.


anything an organism does involving action or response to stimulation.


management of a natural resource to prevent exploitation, destruction, or neglect.


to hunt, trap, or fish illegally.


physical or mental factor (or set of factors) that disturbs the body's normal state of functioning or ability.