Human-elephant conflict: A deadly battle over ever decreasing land

Shreya

New Delhi, Feb 13: A deadly conflict is underway as elephant-human face-off has become regular news in India with its wildlife confined to ever-shrinking forest land.

In the last five years, 2,361 humans were killed as a result of conflict with elephants, while 510 elephants were killed in incidents of electrocution, train accidents, poaching and poisoning during the same period.

West Bengal leads the list with 403 human deaths due to conflict with elephants, and 74 due to tigers. West Bengal is followed by Odisha in the number of human deaths caused by elephants (397) and by Maharashtra in the number of deaths caused by tigers (74).

Why should we care what happens to elephants?

Human-elephant conflict is already one of the biggest conservation challenges.

With India's ever-increasing population growth, elephants and humans are forced into closer contact, resulting in more frequent and severe conflict.

The shrinking habitats and restricted corridors are absolutely critical for conservation efforts and the future of its iconic mammals.

Elephant-human conflict, a result of habitat loss

Scientists have identified crop-raiding as the main form of conflict.

When elephants and humans face-off, there is conflict from crop-raiding, injuries and deaths to humans caused by elephants, and elephants being killed by humans for reasons other than ivory and habitat degradation.

Elephants cause damage amounting from a few thousand dollars to millions of dollars.

Why elephants form unusual all-male groups ganging up in human-occupied areas

Every year, 100 humans (in some years it maybe 300 people) and 40-50 elephants are killed during crop-raiding in India, according to an NGO World Wide Fund for Nature.

Water scarcity

Thirsty of water, the elephants are wandering into human territories. Most watering holes are empty, with even lakes and ponds drying up.

Lethal retaliation against elephants

Elephants, in search of food frequently raid and destroy crops and they can be very dangerous too. They are being viewed as a nuisance and killed.

For example, a total of 60 elephants found dead in retaliation incidents in NE India and Sumatra in 2001, poisoned by plantation workers.

Elephants eat up to 450kg of food per day

Elephants are messy eaters, they need up to 450kg of food per day. A single elephant can smash work of a hectare of crops in a very short time.

Consequences for local people

The elephant raids push small farmers, often desperately poor and already economically to a vulnerable condition.

They may lose their entire livelihood overnight from an elephant raid.

Over 32,000 animals, including 60 elephants killed on tracks in 3 years

Solution

Human-elephant conflict can take their toll both on human lives and property as well as elephant populations.

Non-availability of water is also much of a problem as compared to lack of proteinaceous food. Authorities must come up with ways to help these animals sustain in case the drought cycle intensifies in future.

Innovative ways of resolving such conflicts are vital for the viable conservation of Asian elephants.

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