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Essay on the Conflict Between Humans and Elephants

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: Environmental Studies
Wordcount: 2844 words Published: 19th Apr 2021

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The term human-wildlife conflict attempts to explain the complex relationship between humans and animal species. Globally, this is an issue that is steadily increasing due to human population expansion leading to fewer habitat options for many animal species, which consequently leads to more conflict over space and resources. This hugely affects the livelihoods of humans, with potential impacts including crop damage, property destruction, physical injury to people, and livestock loss which may contribute to more severe food poverty in certain areas. However, this undeniably has significant impacts on the wildlife involved. This is because many people respond negatively and retaliate with violence to prevent individuals from causing further damage, meaning that species are targeted and killed. This is significant because of the conservation crisis that we are currently experiencing meaning that many of the animals attacked are already endangered and in danger due to other anthropogenic reasons.

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An example of this issue is the human-elephant conflict that is currently occurring across the globe. This is becoming a more severe problem as elephants are sizable individuals that are being forced into smaller areas due to land loss and lack of resources, meaning that they often resort to crops that are planted by farmers. Elephants, as previously mentioned, are a large species, meaning they require a great amount of food in a day, and tend to cause much damage to the land through uprooting. Land users often refer to this as ‘crop-raiding’, and this evidently causes anger, and even fear, within agricultural farmers who frequently lose their supplies. Not only do they lose their crops, but they can also become injured, or even killed. Elephants are a severely endangered species, and this conflict with people means that many more are killed per year due to retaliation from humans. According to the World Wildlife Fund, 50-120 elephant individuals are shot and killed per year in Kenya, and many others are poisoned in Indonesia when raiding palm oil plantations.  Furthermore, new mitigation strategies must be put in place to decrease the effects of this human-wildlife conflict whilst simultaneously protecting the threatened species involved. It is important to note that even though the complexity of these conflicts means that multiple elephant species are in danger, this essay will be specifically focusing on Asian elephant individuals.

A key example of a mitigation scheme for this human-elephant conflict is known as the chili method. Elephants have an acute sense of smell meaning that they can be sensitive to certain unpleasant smells within the environment, such as hot chillis that can be used as a deterrent when placed around borders. This acts as an irritant to their sensitive respiratory tract area, meaning that the individuals are repelled from important cropland, consequently moving onto other areas and causing less damage to agricultural land. This can be used in a variety of different forms, with the most frequently used methods being bricks (dung and chili mixture which is burnt to create smoke), sprays, fencing, and growing chilis around crops. These all have different success rates due to varying costs and benefits for each method.

A study that demonstrates this varying success is written by K. Chelliah et al in 2010, which aimed to see the effects of chilli ropes on elephant species. This study is based in India and involved creating a mixture of chili, tobacco powder, and waste oil in order to apply to ropes surrounding agricultural fields. The study area chosen consisted of three different areas (Wyanad Wildlife Sanctuary, Hosur Forest Divison, and Buxa tiger reserve), and the experiment lasted for 3 months. The results of this study showed a clear difference between the behaviors of both genders, with females being far more likely to be repelled by the chili scent compared to males. Interestingly, the researchers of this study believe that the elephants displayed avoidance behavior simply due to physiological barriers due to a new or unusual obstacle. A concern with this is that the deterrent will become less efficient with time as the rope becomes more familiar and less of a threat to the elephant individuals.

An issue with using chili ropes is that the grease can easily be washed away, meaning in areas of high rainfall this could be a very time-consuming process, as well as revenue being lost due to fewer chilis being sold.

However, a study was written by Osborn and Rasmussen in 1995 and revealed that when using chili in the form of an aerosol can (containing 10% oleoresin capsicum), there was a 86% success rate meaning that the majority of individuals were affected by the chili,  suggesting that this can be an effective deterrent method. On the other hand, land users may see this as a time/energy consuming method as the dispersal of chili is not as strong as other methods such as smoke. Environmentally, this may not be the most friendly method as aerosols harm the environment due to the chemicals and gases released into the atmosphere.

A more sustainable option for this may be chili bricks, as it uses readily available dung which is highly abundant, as well as recycling organic materials, meaning it is cheap and easy to use. A study that demonstrates the effectiveness of this method is written by Rocio A.Pozo et al in 2017. This involved mixing chili and dung to create two briquette types; chili and non-chili. The results showed that the chili bricks did change the individual’s behavior and kept them away from crops, especially during the night. However, it did not reduce the number of elephants that passed over the area, meaning that they would still be in close proximity to local people and could potentially cause accidental land damage. This suggests a possible short term repellent solution, although it would not completely deter them away from the area. Also, an issue with this method is that in areas of high winds, the smell of the chili will be blown away and may not be passed in the right direction, meaning it will not be as effective in certain locations or time of year. This is also not as environmentally friendly due to the high levels of carbon dioxide that it releases into the atmosphere when burnt. Also, some local individuals may be concerned about potential fire hazards in certain areas if the conditions are very dry, as other areas could easily catch fire and spread throughout the land.

Another example of a non-violent mitigation scheme to prevent human and elephant conflict is the use of beehives. This method involves placing multiple beehives on fencing that surrounds important crop areas, roughly every 10 meters, with mesh placed on the sides in order to prevent honey badgers or other predator species from causing damage. These hives are all connected to the same wire so that when an elephant touches it, bee movement is triggered. Beehives are used as a deterrent due to elephant individuals finding the sound and vibrations uncomfortable, so will modify their behavior and move away from the area. In addition, they also do not like the scent due to their sensitive sense of smell.

A study that demonstrates the success of this mitigation method is written by A.Water et al in 2020. The aim of this study is to increase understanding of beehive fencing as a mitigation method, and specifically investigates the effect of Italian honey bees on Asian elephants in Kaeng Hang as this is an area with a high rate of human-elephant conflict in Thailand (Kitratporn & Takeuchi, 2020). This research aims to 1) assess attitudes towards elephants in this particular area using questionnaires, 2) create an initial pilot study to evaluate the effectiveness of Italian honey bee deterrents. This was done using motion-sensor cameras because this can reveal the number of entry attempts by elephants, changes in behavior, and other significant variables such as age, sex, or group size as this could impact fence breaking. The pilot study consisted of attaching 40 beehives (containing Italian honey bees) every 6 meters along bamboo fencing using rope, and mechanisms were created so that bees will be released if the rope was moved by elephant activity. The results of the pilot study revealed that 70% of all the individuals observed demonstrated an alarmed or startled response to the movement of the bees, and in total, successfully deterred 88.4% of individual elephants.

This is also supported by an article written by Riju P Nair and E. A. Jayson, who blocked popular elephant pathways in the Malappuram district with 20 beehive boxes. The results showed that out of fourteen encounters, only 2 elephant individuals moved past the beehive into the crop field, demonstrating a significant decrease in land damage. This also resulted in fifteen kilograms of honey for farmers to sell, making it economically beneficial.

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These results show that the beehive fence had a high effectiveness and success rate for deterring Asian elephants, and farm owners expressed that they saw a significant decrease in crop-raiding and land damage after the beehives were put in place, as well as other benefits such as additional income from honey sales. This can be a very cost-efficient method for farmers, especially compared to alternatives such as drones which have a similar aim due to the noise it creates deterring elephants. However, drones are very expensive with batteries that may only last for 20 minutes. In comparison, the beehive fence is a simple and economical approach, which relies only on locally sourced materials to make it a sustainable and viable mitigation technique. In addition, other benefits that can also come from this can include ecosystem services such as the increase in pollinators in the area which would consequently improve crop yield and enhance income for land users.

However, a negative aspect of this is that it assumes that crops will be abundant all year round in order to attract the bees. During dry spells or droughts in Asia, crops will be limited meaning that fewer bee individuals will be attracted to the area in order to fill the hives. Also, different predator species may deter the bees due to attacks on the hives leading to individuals moving to other areas away from harmful species, meaning that not all locations may be ideal for the bees to thrive and fill the hives, so the success may fluctuate due to a variety of different geographical variables.

Another mitigation method may be the use of crops that are unappetizing to elephants, meaning the area is not appealing to individuals due to the replacement of crops. To increase the effectiveness of this method, it is important to have the new crop type cover a large area of land in order to reduce conflict, as well as being consistently the same crop in order to successfully deter individuals. For example, in Sri Lanka farmers have replaced crops such as corn and melon, which is highly appetizing to elephants, with crops such as tobacco. A study that assesses theeffectiveness of this is written by Cao Thi Ly et al in 2020. The research for this is based in Yok Don National Park in Vietnam (roughly 70-100 Asian elephants habitat the park), and the aim is to compare the effects of elephant behavior when faced with unpalatable crops. These new pilot crops were placed in three separate areas and included a mixture of annual crops (eg chili), and perennial crops (eg teak) which were intercropped. To create a fair comparison, eleven plots were also assessed which were filled with traditional crops that are usually planted by farmers in the area. The results of this study revealed that the pilot crops had a much higher survival rate and were not consumed by elephants at a significant quantity, compared to the traditional plots of land which experienced crop and land damage. Although, an important point to make is that the new crops used for this experiment had a lower income than the traditional crops that are usually sold by land users due to different market values, meaning that farmers may be losing money from loss of sales. However, further assessment by the researchers suggests that when the perennial crops are grown fully and ready to harvest, the income from them is either equal to or higher than the traditional crops, meaning there may be more suitable in the long term compared to annual crops.

A potential issue with this method is that elephants can quickly adapt to new crops that were previously not palatable, as they learn to consume foods that are more abundant at that time. According to the 2008 WWF ‘review of human-elephant conflict measures practiced in South Asia’, elephants have recently started to consume Teak that is not native to Sri Lanka, as it was brought to the area as a timber resource. Individuals have been seen stripping the bark from these teak trees when 10 years ago this would not have happened. This may mean that crops may need to be changed and rotated regularly as the elephant species adapts to them, meaning it could potentially be time-consuming. However, it is likely that the land users will benefit economically from this method due to decreased crop-raiding, although physical damages to land from elephants may still occur. Elephant populations may also be negatively affected by this method due to unpalatable crops taking up land space, meaning that they have less roaming space and habitat options which could potentially endanger individuals and decrease their chance of survival. However, based on the results from the above study, it is believed that using perennial crops such as teak and tamarind are viable alternative options, as it creates a significant income for farmers without concern about crop raiding from elephants.

A similar approach was taken by C. Dharmarathne et al who wrote a study about ‘project orange’ created in Sri Lanka. This method involves taking advantage of elephants dislike of citrus based fruits, in order to deter them away from the area. This meant that farmers grew Citrus sinensis around their crops which provides roughly 500 fruits per season, and has a good market price meaning that they provide additional income for the farmers. These create a border around any areas that farmers wish to protect from elephants, as the scent covers the smell of the other crops. This proved to be a very effective method in deterring the elephants, and did not require new skills or techology advances for farmers meaning that it was simple and time efficient.

In conclusion, human-elephant conflict is a hugely significant issue across Asia, and has a multitude of different consequences, threatening the lives of both human and elephant populations. There is currently an abundance of mitigation schemes in order to conserve species and protect the environment, all of which have their advantages and disadvantages. After reviewing these approaches and evaluating their effectiveness, these strategies appear to be generally short-term solutions that are reliant on the location of the conflict. This means that mitigation often involves moving the problem from one area to another through a deterrent, rather than creating a more sustainable approach that can be generalized on a larger scale. Therefore, further research should take a more interdisciplinary approach in order to understand the complexity of the multiple interconnecting factors, which considers social, economic, and environmental factors. A larger-scale strategy such as this is ideally conducted and funded by international protection groups such as the IUCN as they have access to an abundance of information, as well as influences worldwide, in order to create a viable option for multiple locations. It is important to locate areas of high conflict in order to understand how communities use the resources in the area, as this can identify the causes of human-elephant conflict and how alternative options can be created.

However, these current research projects provide hope for the future of human-wildlife conflict mitigation, as more information is found and applied to later schemes. Studies that explore research into these strategies are hugely important in reducing the effects of these conflicts, as it provides an opportunity to educate people whilst connecting conservationists and local communities in order to collaborate on future solutions. Continued research into the understanding of the ever-changing dynamics within nature is vital in discovering measures that can decrease the impacts on humans and wildlife.


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