Coexistence with elephants: Innovative and participatory approaches in the management of human-elephant conflict
Presented by M. Ananda Kumar
Resolving human-elephant conflicts is one of the major conservation challenges in Africa and Asia. Conflict incidents frequently lead to use of reactive measures such as chasing elephants, capture and translocation, or retaliatory persecution, but these often fail to resolve conflicts on a sustained basis, empower communities to implement solutions, or help conservation of elephants. Although often attributed to increasing elephant numbers, human-elephant conflict is dynamic in space and time and may be determined by spatial location characteristics, distribution and availability of resources, and interactions with people rather than elephant numbers per se or duration of stay in human-use areas. Long-term research on behavioural and ecological aspects and human-elephant interactions is needed to better understand conflicts and identify appropriate solutions.
Ananda presents their long-term (2002–14) study on Asian elephants (Elephas maximus) in a plantation-forest landscape in the Anamalai hills, Western Ghats, India. By tracking and locating elephant herds and conflict incidence, we studied elephant movement patterns, preferred habitats and routes, and spatial hotspots and temporal peaks of conflict occurrence, which enabled us to identify and implement targeted mitigation efforts. The major conflict concerns were the safety of human life and damage to buildings where food grains are stored. Our studies revealed that lack of information about elephant presence and movement through plantations was the major reason for loss of human life, suggesting a need for early intimation about elephants. With the involvement of stakeholders, we established an Elephant Information Network and deployed simple, adaptable, and locally-appropriate early-warning systems to mitigate human-elephant conflict. These pro-active measures helped to reduce conflict occurrence, were well-regarded and implemented by communities, besides enabling the continued movement of elephants through the landscape. Their experience indicates that a long-term science-based approach with sustained participation by local communities can help in conflict management, deliver direct benefits to problem locations, and increase people’s tolerance of elephants. It also suggests that a shift from the conventional, reactive ‘problem elephant’ approaches to a pro-active ‘problem location’ approach may be more effective to promote coexistence and elephant conservation in modified landscapes.
About the speaker:
Ananda Kumar is currently a Wildlife Biologist with Nature Conservation Foundation (NCF) coordinating field conservation activities in relation to resolving human-elephant conflict and restoration of rainforest in the Anamalai hills, Western Ghats. Prior to this he was an NCF Research Affiliate working on human-elephant conflict and behavior of Asian elephants in this human-dominated landscape of plantations and rainforest fragments. He also is a recipient of the Carl Zeiss Conservation Award for spearheading projects to effectively deal with human-elephant conflict in the Western Ghats of India.