Scientists at the University of British Columbia and Oxford University, who tracked the elephants' migration patterns with global positioning system collars, say conservation efforts for the animals are threatened by increased armed conflict in Mali between government forces and Tuareg rebels.
"In recent years, the Mali elephants have largely managed to maintain their numbers in extreme natural conditions of heat and drought," UBC doctoral candidate Jake Wall said.
"The uprising occurring in northern Mali puts them at greater risk, as does increasing human settlement in their traditional territory and the growing risk of ivory poaching," he said in a release Wednesday.
The study focused on the Gourma elephants of Mali's northern region, which travel over an area of more than 12,000 square miles annually in search of food and water, the largest area ever recorded for any elephant species.
They may be forced to expand further as resources become scarcer, which could increase the risk to them from the ongoing violence in Mali, the researchers said.