Human Elephant Conflict (HEC)
Human elephant conflict or HEC, is the biggest challenge confronting Asian elephant conservation. Asia has a very high density of people and an extremely rapid population growth rate. Consequently, more and more land has to be opened up to feed the hungry millions and more and more land has to be converted to settle the landless millions.
For example, even in Sri Lanka which has one of the lowest growth rates in Asia, the population density is over 300 people per square km and 750 more people are added to the population every day. That means 7500 more people every 10 days and 22,500 more people every month. To simply maintain the status quo, we have to find food, housing, clothing, jobs, etc. for 750 more people every day. So we have to open up and develop more and more areas just to keep our place on the tread mill.
On one hand, elephants are losing ground. As in the rest of Asia, in Sri Lanka too more than two thirds of elephants live outside protected areas. With expanding human populations, natural habitats that are not designated as 'protected' are being converted to human habitats at an ever increasing rate. Where elephants once ranged have sprung up crop fields, where they once bathed and peacefully drank is now an agricultural reservoir.
Every day, elephants are losing ground to the human tide. Their access to critical resources, are blocked by human habitations and fences. When they come out to water or to feed in an open area, they are chased away. Trap guns, muzzle loaders, planks studded with nails left on trails, poison, all take their toll, killing and maiming elephants.
In response elephants have become almost completely nocturnal and very secretive, taking flight at the sound of a human voice and hiding in impenetrable thickets during the day.
On the other hand, our economy is largely agro based. The crops cultivated by humans have been developed over thousands of years of careful breeding to be highly productive, more nutritious, energy rich and very tasty.
Unfortunately, elephants also appreciate our efforts very much, and think it great to tuck into the bountiful harvest. Understandably the farmers don't agree. Most farmers who cultivate in elephant ranges are very poor and their survival depends on obtaining a good harvest. They have to overcome a host of challenges such as insects, rodents, weeds, crop diseases, vagaries of weather, high prices of agro chemicals etc. to nurse their crop to harvest. Then a few days before the harvest, an elephant walks in and destroys the field... or after the harvest is gathered and finally stored in his mud hut, an elephant knocks down the house... Trying to chase it away may lead to injury or even death... with financial ruin and starvation of his family the result.
Thus, HEC is a very complex and intractable problem with both humans and elephants the losers. There are no silver bullets that will resolve HEC and we have to think of new approaches that can mitigate the conflict and safeguard both people and elephants. We at CCR are developing a new strategy for elephant conservation based on our past research. A number of our projects are specifically for this purpose.