B.Sc.(Ecology and Sustainability) (Hons.), M. Env A thesis submitted in total fulfillment of the requirements for the degree of Master of Philosophy (Environmental Science) Faculty of Science School of Environmental and Life Sciences University of Newcastle New South Wales, Australia August 2019
Human-elephant conflict (HEC) in the form of crop-raiding, is a major conservation challenge to the long-term survival of elephant populations, simultaneously threatening the livelihoods and personal safety of people living in proximity to elephants. The widespread problem of HEC has led to a great deal of research into the causes, consequences and predictors of elephant crop-raiding activity. However, despite similarities across HEC situations, site-specific differences are also apparent. Furthermore, most studies focus on one facet of HEC when it is a complex issue requiring understanding of local elephant behaviour, identification of the characteristics and patterns of cropraiding at the local scale, and careful implementation and monitoring of mitigation strategies. In this study, I selected a region of Sri Lanka experiencing high levels of HEC and sought to provide an in-depth assessment of the site-specific situation generated over a three-year period. Specifically, we aimed to: identify general patterns of behaviour occurring in local areas representing differing levels of anthropogenic disturbance to elephants; profile patterns and predictors of crop-raiding activity in a village heavily impacted by HEC; and test the effectiveness of beehive fencing as an Asian elephant deterrent tool. First, I provide initial evidence that elephants inhabiting areas of ‘medium’ level anthropogenic disturbance outside of protected boundaries, interrupt feeding and increase ‘reactive’ behaviours such as smelling and holding the ‘vigilance’ posture in response to immediate anthropogenic threats in the environment. In the absence of any known disturbances, there was no difference in general behaviours of male or female elephants between the two risk zones. Secondly, I show that elephant crop-raiding in Dewagiriya Village occurs year-round and follows no clear seasonal patterns. Similar to other HEC situations, male elephants are the predominant crop-raiders, and crop-raiding occurs almost exclusively at nights. Within-site variations in crop-raiding intensity were also identified, with properties closest to water tanks and forest habitat the most vulnerable. Finally, our three-year beehive fence trial showed that households using beehive fences around their gardens had significantly less elephant visits into their gardens then households without. Still, difficulties in attracting natural colonies, poor honey production, set-up costs, and farmer motivations were barriers to success. This study contributes to the general body of knowledge on elephant behaviour in anthropogenically influenced contexts, and specifically on patterns of crop-raiding and mitigation efforts. Further research into the potential of beehive fences as an Asian elephant deterrent, preferably in a location more amenable to beekeeping, would help to determine the value of expanding this technique further in Sri Lanka, and elsewhere in Asia.