by DJ & SdS
Human-wild elephant interactions usually bring negative outcomes. The friction stems from the never ending competition of resources, mainly land. A conflict is defined as a state of mind in which an individual experiences a clash of opposing feelings. When the two species fail to share common resources, a conflict naturally takes place.The discussion must invariably focus on those who live alongside elephants. Their relationships with wild elephants vary. While some think total rejection is the answer, others considers having elephants around is fine as long as they don’t disturb their basic lifestyle.
Is human-elephant coexistence ever possible?
Well it’s quite a challenge given the damage wild elephant could cause to the farmers. A study conducted in Hambegamuwa (Northern Uda Walawe) revealed more than 90% of the farmers had been affected by the conflict during 2008-2012. Annual crop damage was 25% of their annual household income while they had to invest about 10.5% of their annual farming cost on conflict mitigation methods. Property and life damage caused by elephants add to the question of coexistence, how far the locals would tolerate. The death of a school girl due to an elephant encounter in Balaharuwa area (East of Uda Walawe National Park) agitated locals, who demanded the ‘problem elephant’ be removed from the area. Those who tolerate wild elephants in their neighbourhood can only go so far. As conflict increases and the level of tolerance decreases, human-wild elephant relationship is a delicate balance. Conservation actions are meant to maintain this balance, the efforts may vary from low to extremely high cost.
An open dialogue should be kept between the affected locals and those parties who try to find solutions for the conflict – let’s call it raising awareness for both parties. The nature of the conflict varies with the geographic location and as there’s no universal solution for the problem, addressing the problem requires thorough analysis of the particular case. Meanwhile, the locals are better expected to understand how to be safe when living along with elephants in their neighbourhood.
Our hope for wild elephants on the World Elephant Day is a peaceful and secured life in the wilderness. Dr. Jane Goodall cited human ingenuity as one of her reasons for hope for the future. One invention is the electric fence, which has yielded some results in mitigating conflict. But electric fences are not a cure-all, they must be strategically placed and managed so that they facilitate coexistence, without creating fresh problems by blocking elephant movement unnecessarily. Rural farmers prefer low cost electric fences if they are to invest in agriculture and village fences themselves. Together with the University of Colombo, Sri Lanka, EFECT is trying to help communities around Uda Walawe to build and modify low cost electric fences. It is our responsibility to help the conflict affected communities so that they can maintain their positive relationship with the wild elephants in the shared landscape. Isn’t this also an aspect of ecosystem balance?