Rachael Lowe

PhD Student

I’m a PhD candidate studying the effects of climate change induced drought on African elephants (Loxodonta africana). Specifically how their response may have a trickle down effect on their own survival and that of other vulnerable species and surrounding communities. My research is focused in key reserves in South Africa, Zambia, Mozambique and Botswana and is best described as the intersection between elephant conservation/ecology, GIS, climate change and community based management.

Before my PhD, I completed a Bachelor of Science (H1 Honours) at ANU majoring in biology and specialising in biodiversity conservation and management and evolution/ecology, my Honours topic being similar to my current work. I also work as a tutor and demonstator within Fenner and broadly in Science Communication and Outreach.


    Research interests

    Project Title: Climate Change: the African Elephant in the Room.


    Elephants cannot sweat and as the largest terrestrial mammal, African Savannah Elephants (Loxodonta africana) have very poor heat transfer mechanisms and are biophysically susceptible to drought so they rely heavily on external water sources. Higher temperatures and decreasing rainfall are known to have negative effects on the immediate behavior and survival of elephants, but very little long term research has been done on their movement or spatial dynamics in response to a changing climate which is becoming evident as the drought across Southern Africa gets worse. With 84% living within protected areas, and most populations being fenced in – they are unable to migrate to their ancient water sources while their perennial water continues to dry up. My research aims to highlight that elephants are and will continue to respond to climate change, and that this response is a risk to themselves, other vulnerable species and vulnerable communities inside and outside the parks by using predominantly GIS and a community-based approach.

    This project is a combination of geographic information systems, African Savannah Elephant (Loxodonta africana) ecology and conservation, community-based management and climate change. It is exploring how elephants are responding to climate change-induced drought, and how their response may impact their survival, that of other vulnerable species and local communities and looks to how this situation may be managed in the future.

    Research Questions:

    1. Are and how are African elephants responding to climate change, and will this response be a risk to their survival, impact other endangered species and have a negative effect on their surrounding communities?
    2. Is the current research on elephant ecology and movement biased towards certain countries and parks that may not be adequately indicative of the wider elephant population and could refocusing on small parks alleviate this?
    3. How can local communities be involved in the cultural and natural resource management of elephants to best prepare them for the associated issues of climate change-induced drought?