Mitigating Human-Elephant Conflicts: Case Studies and Conservation Efforts in India

Mitigating Human-Elephant Conflicts: Case Studies and Conservation Efforts in India

Relevance: GS 3-Environment(Conservation)

Context: Increase in human population and development works have reduced and fragmented wildlife habitat, resulting in human– wildlife conflicts.

Human-Elephant Conflict:

  • Human wildlife conflicts refer to struggles that arise when the presence or behavior of wildlife poses actual or perceived direct, recurring threats to human interests or needs, often leading to disagreements between groups of people and negative impacts on people and/or wildlife.

  • Being a large herbivorous animal, elephant needs vast areas to roam, browsing, foraging, moving from place to place in search of food and water with the changing seasons.

  • The ‘home range’ of an elephant herd can vary from an average of about 250 sq. km (in Rajaji National Park) to over 3500 sq. km(in the highly degraded, fragmented landscapes of West Bengal).

  • As elephants are forced to range farther and farther afield, this also brings them into conflict with humans.

  • And as humans encroach on forest areas, planting nutritious crops near forest lands, building homes and roads and railways, this invites conflict with elephants.

Reasons/Factors causing Human-Elephant conflict:

  • Urbanization & Development

  • Habitat loss

  • Lack of Protected areas

  • Movement of wild animals from forests area to human-dominated landscapes for food and fodder

  • Population explosion

  • Deforestation

  • Agricultural expansion

  • Climate change

  • Invasive species

  • Increase in eco-tourism

  • Substantial increase in the population of prolific breeders like wild boars and peacocks

Case Study:

1. Sonitpur, Assam (Organized Habitat Destruction)

The Kameng area in Arunachal Pradesh and Sonitpur in Assam(contiguous habitat) support a large elephant population that varies between 900 and 1200 animals. Inside Sonitpur in Assam, approximately 500 to 800 elephants occur at different times of the year. During the paddy season, the elephants travel down from the Himalayan foothills in Arunachal Pradesh. In the early 1990s, these elephants sometimes damaged property and raided crops. A few human deaths occurred because of these human–elephant conflicts, but elephants were usually unharmed. Politically motivated developments by the mid 1990s, however, heightened the level of encroachment. By 2002, at least 50% of the prime elephant habitat in the region was lost and human–elephant conflicts became commonplace. Human deaths from elephants increased in 1993 (32), 2001 (26), and 2002 (28) and in retaliation, over 30 elephants were poisoned from 2001 to 2002 in Sonitpur and adjacent areas. Human awareness, motivations, and compensation for human injury and death intensified and an “Elephant Reserve” was developed. One of the only possible solutions to mitigate this conflict is to restore elephant habitat to pre-1990 conditions.

2. Nambor-Garampani, Assam (Behavioral Change)

Nambor-Garampani forest in Assam is well known for its elephants. Like most areas in NE India, the habitat has suffered from human encroachment and deforestation. A busy national highway passes through the forest. In the early 1990s, some elephants became a serious and regular hazard, displaying noticeable behavioral changes as they searched vehicles for food (e.g., fruits, sugarcane). This area became a popular tourist attraction in 1991–92. Some of the elephants were poached, but little poaching is currently reported. The bulk of the remaining habitat in this forest has been protected as wildlife sanctuaries and the diversion of the highway will help to improve the situation and mitigate human–elephant conflicts in this area.

Steps Taken by Government:

  • Project Elephant: Launched by the Government of India in 1992 as a Centrally Sponsored Scheme.

  • Wildlife Protection Act 1972: Lays down rules and regulations for the conservation and protection of Animals in India.

  • Protected Areas and reserves: 106 National Parks, 567 Wildlife Sanctuaries, and 105 existing Conservation Reserves.

  • Project Tiger: Launched in 1973, initially with 9 tiger reserves, now there are 53 tiger reserves in India.

  • Monitoring the Illegal Killing of Elephants (MIKE): Established by CITES at the tenth Conference of the Parties in 1997.

  • Operation Thunderbird: Coordinated by Wildlife Crime Control Bureau (WCCB) to fight against wildlife crime.

  • Plan Bee: Adopted by the Northeast Frontier Railway (NFR) to keep elephants away from railway tracks.

Elephant Corridors:

  • Guiding movements of wild animals in developed areas through dedicated corridors.

  • Critical for other wildlife including India’s endangered National Animal, the Royal Bengal tiger (Panthera Tigris).

Elephant Corridors in India:

  • 88 corridors identified in 2005, increased to 101 in 2017.

Way Ahead:

  • Wildlife corridors allow animals to move freely without crossing human-caused barriers.

  • Awareness: Improving communication and interaction between forest department and locals.

  • Effective planning and implementation of community led conservation, in collaboration with affected communities.

  • Conservation of animals and avoidance of human-animal interaction through more protected areas.

  • Other measures include barriers, guarding and early-warning systems, deterrents and repellents, translocation, compensation or insurance, providing risk-reducing alternatives, and managing tensions between stakeholders.

Advait IAS