How can humans and elephants better coexist?


Naomi Larsson, The Guardian

Date Published
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Conservation must be higher up on the political agenda
We need conservation (not just fighting the illegal wildlife trade which has captured the limelight more recently) to be far higher up the political agenda. For example, we in the UK could be much more effectively linking overseas aid (budget of £12bn this year) to poverty relief, sustainable development and environmental protection, ecosystem services and conservation priorities. Will Travers, president, Born Free Foundation

Recognise that humans are suffering too

With human-elephant conflict it’s also essential that the impact on people is recognised. Human lives are being lost (which is particularly extreme in India, but on the rise in Africa too), and there is extensive damage to crops and property. Solutions have to be found to help both people and elephants. Dan Bucknell, executive director, Tusk

Give a voice to the communities who live alongside elephants

It is vital that the communities’ voices be heard, especially those individuals that live in the elephant range, and and are in conflict with the elephants on a daily basis. We have worked on mapping “conflict” in the district we work in. It is absolutely vital that we can prioritise the area most badly affected and ask the simple question to the community: What do you think is the way forward? What mitigation tool will be useful? If the community doesn’t support a mitigation tool it will likely fail. Tempe Adams, research coordinator, Elephants Without Borders

Highlight the value of elephants

For us it’s vital that elephants and all wildlife are seen as valuable, either to an individual or an entire economy, where some country’s tourism industry depends on this wildlife. But this value must come from the animal being alive and in good welfare condition – not exploited for entertainment or killed for its parts. Emily Wilson, UK campaigns officer, World Animal Protection

Consider how humans and elephants can share land

Land use planning is key, but we should be looking at this with vision of coexistence – how elephants and people can share space. Also, land use planning needs to be combined in a holistic approach, including mitigation at the landscape level and addressing the needs of the people (improving food security and increasing benefits from living with elephants). We have been working with partners – both government and communities – in Botswana to do this through a participatory approach. We now have 13 corridors for elephants included in land use plans as well as areas of land identified for agricultural development which could be protected as cluster field areas from elephants. Anna Songhurst, director, Ecoexist Project

Don’t ignore the issue of human overpopulation

Human population growth is a reality that conservationists must reckon with. Africa’s human population is expected to nearly double by the year 2050, from 1.2 billion people today to an estimated 2.4 billion people in 35 years. More people will mean increased pressures on land and resources. There will be less space available for all species and not just elephants. Conservationists must think clearly about this challenge and discuss openly how to manage elephants in human dominated landscapes. Winnie Kiiru, technical adviser, Stop Ivory

Learn from other projects
Beehive fences

Not only are our elephants having their natural movement corridors cut by infrastructure developments like highways and railways (both of which are desperately needed for the Kenya’s development), but we are also seeing significant increase in the farmer-elephant conflict. At Save The Elephants we’re working closely with the Kenya Wildlife Service to monitor the impact of these development projects to identify areas for corridor protection through radio tracking and collaring of key elephants. We’re also testing the use of beehive fences to reduce this particular level of conflict for the farms on the direct line of conflict to help reduce crop raid events and limit the line of encroachment of the farms into the corridors. We just published another data set from Tsavo showing the beehive fences were 80% effective at keeping elephants out of small 1-2 acre farms. Not 100% yet, but the farmers at least get some compensation from the honey sales and pollination services of the bees. Lucy King, head of human-elephant co-existence programme, Save the Elephants

Early warning systems

We have investigated human fatal incidents due to elephants in the tea growing region, in the Anamalai hills. This is the main reason for people getting angry at elephants. Most of the fatalities occurred when people were unaware of the elephants and their movements. With the involvement of our government, corporate companies and local people, we have developed a range of early warning systems. These include sending out elephant location alerts over SMS and automated calls to mobile phones, automated announcement systems in public transport, and mobile-operated red beacons in strategic locations. These warning systems help people to plan their outdoor activities in order to avoid encounters with elephants. Ananda Kumar, scientist, Nature Conservation Foundation

Chilli ropes

We did some experiments with chilli ropes in eastern India, and they worked. However, we have to yet to see large scale replication. We have been urging the government to promote this cheap mitigation measure. We also did experiments with irregular flashing LED lights that use very little battery power. And we had spectacular success with those. The elephants come up close to the crop fields every night but since the lights they haven’t entered. Biswajit Mohanty, secretary, Wildlife Society of Orissa

Solar powered fences

In Kaziranga, the Corbett Foundation has been adopting different strategies at different locations for human-elephant conflictmitigation. The villages which fall under corridor need emphasis on effective guarding and the sites where elephants just venture to raid crops need solar powered fences which we have established jointly with the forest department in Assam. But in both the cases community has been included in every step of deliberation and action. Naveen Pandey, deputy director and veterinary advisor, The Corbett Foundation