Study reveals heavy price of conflict with wild elephants

Posted: 21 May 2008

Governments could save human lives and millions of dollars in crop and income losses for the rural poor through better consideration of theneeds of wildlife, according to a new study on conflict between humans and wild elephants in Africa and Asia.

Elephants often stray into areas of human settlements in search of food, damaging crops and injuring or even killing people. This sometimes also leads to retaliatory killing of elephants. In India, records show that about 150-200 people die each year in elephant-related incidents.

African elephant charging
African elephant charging
African elephant, Loxodonta africana. Charging male in aggressive posture. Etosha National Park, Namibia. Photo © WWF-Canon / Martin HARVEY
The WWF report Common Ground found the most serious conflict and harm to people snd elephants came from unplanned and unregulated development. In Namibia, elephant related conflict costs communal farmers around $US 1 million a year, while in some Nepalese communities it can be up to around a quarter of the household incomes of poor farming families.

Some costs of human wildlife conflict go largely uncounted - for instance, in Nepal, men in elephant-ravaged villages faced difficultiesin marrying as women afe scared to move to villages where elephants are a problem. In some areas, retaliatory killing of elephants was a major threat to already vulnerable elephant populations.

"Conflict with elephants causes death and suffering for many marginal poor communities living close to wildlife areas," said Dr SusanLieberman, WWF International's Species Programme Director. "But we can go from lose-lose to win-win for both humans and wildlife, with the clearest gains coming from the implementation of effective land-use planning aimed at reducing the potential for conflict."

Fragmented forests

Water tank destroyed by elephants
Water tank destroyed by elephants
Water tank destroyed by African savanna elephant attack, Kuene region, Namibia. Photo © WWF-Canon / Jo BENN
Such planning a ensure that agricultural developments are established as far away from wildlife habitat as possible. This is demonstrated well in Namibia. There, crop enterprises established directly in the vicinity of unfenced wildlife habitat could suffer a 120-200 per cent drop in net income, compered to 30-60 per cent losses in more distant zones. Human wildlife conflict in just one region of Namibia was estimated as causing annual losses of US$700,000 to the national economy. In Nepal, the study found that the less damaged area had more forest cover in edge areas and, most importantly, less less fragmented forests overall.

One effective way to manage such conflict was to give rights over wildlife to local communities, enabling them to benefit from it. Studies showed that such communities were able to generate more income from wildlife than they suffered from wildlife losses. They also became more tolerant towards the elephants.

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