When Elephants and Humans Meet

When elephants and humans share habitats, conflicts can arise due to encroachment on elephant territories and erratic weather patterns forcing elephants to seek food and water near human settlements. To mitigate these conflicts, efforts should focus on creating safe pathways for elephants and educating people on how to interact with these magnificent creatures.

At times, a peculiar situation arises where elephants and humans find themselves in a bit of a predicament. It is somewhat akin to two friends accidentally stepping on each other’s toes during a dance. Such scenarios tend to unfold in areas where elephants and humans coexist within their shared habitats.

Elephants are magnificent creatures, both in terms of their immense size and their remarkable intelligence – and known as gentle giants. However, like anyone else, they too can become irritable when faced with worries or hunger. This can often lead to what is commonly referred to as a worrying situation of Human-Elephant Conflict (HEC).

Our shared goal should be to find ways to reduce conflicts. This could include creating safe pathways for elephants to navigate without passing through human settlements. Also, there has to be a widespread effort to educate people about elephants, equipping all with the knowledge to respond appropriately when encountering these magnificent creatures.

Consider, for instance, the unique plight of Asian elephants in Northeast India. These majestic beings find themselves in a distressing situation due to the encroachment on their natural habitats with the resulting stress leading to conflict with local residents.

The root cause of this crisis lies in encroachment of elephant habitats, as a result of constructions of houses and roads in areas that were once the elephant’s domain. Just picture someone deciding to build a house on your cherished playground! This unfortunate trend has compelled the elephants to search for sustenance and water sources near human settlements, giving rise to the very real and pressing issues of HEC we face today.

Adding to the complexity of the situation, the weather patterns are also becoming increasingly erratic. Droughts and unpredictable weather conditions are presenting challenges for elephants in their quest for food and water. Consequently, they venture into areas inhabited by humans, and this doesn’t always bode well. Often this results in harm to both people and elephants with elephants damaging agriculture and houses in villages but also being injured by measures people take to protect their lives and livelihoods such as poisoning elephants or using electric fences in an attempt to drive them away.

About the author:

Santonu Goswami is part of Centre for Climate Change and Sustainability at the Azim Premji University.