Winner of the Whitley Award donated by WWF-UK
With India’s growing economy and subsequent development encroaching on elephant habitat, people and elephants are forced to share space and resources. Human-elephant conflict threatens not only elephant populations, but also human lives and livelihoods. Each year in India, 400 people and more than 100 elephants are killed as a result of conflict. Elephant damage to crops and property only compounds the issue, with communities living in fear and often resorting to retaliatory measures to drive herds away.
Ananda Kumar is a scientist with the Nature Conservation Foundation, India. He leads the Anamalai Elephant Programme which aims to reduce conflict and increase people’s tolerance of elephants across two different landscapes in the Western Ghats, home to the largest elephant populations in India. His programme began in the Anamalai hills, where 70,000 people’s livelihoods rely on tea and coffee plantations and human fatalities from accidental elephant encounters pose a serious threat. He is now expanding his work to include the Sathyamangalam Tiger Reserve, a forest-farm landscape that supports subsistence farmers at risk of elephant crop damage.
In collaboration with government authorities, plantation companies, village councils and local communities, Ananda has set up an ‘Elephant Information Network’, which acts as an early warning system to help avoid surprise encounters, and foster coexistence. The system uses technology to alert people when elephants are nearby, via SMS, phone calls and mobile-operated light indicators, enabling people to take alternative routes and get to safety. By sharing real-time information on elephant locations, Ananda’s project is helping to save lives, whilst reducing the need for aggressive actions to scare away elephants that cause them significant stress.
Ananda’s project aims to:
- Strengthen and expand the Elephant Information Network to avoid human fatalities and property damage by elephants.
- Improve understanding of human-elephant conflict, and develop strategies to reduce incidents of crop damage.
- Investigate the physiological effect of deterrent measures on elephants and adopt approaches that minimise stress.
Why it matters:
- Nearly 80% of Asia’s elephants live outside protected areas.
- Early warning systems will help to save human lives.
- The stress induced by conflict with humans may be detrimental to the long-term survival of elephants.
“The early warning systems have enabled people to avoid direct encounters with elephants.”