Issues: Rubber bands for elephants

Pull of the Wild

One of the most important aspects of conserving Asian elephants is managing conflict. Both elephants and people need space, and where they both claim the same space, conflict occurs.
One way of imagining the conflict dilemma that managers face is to see the elephant as a creature pulled in several directions by giant rubber bands attached to it:
  • One rubber band will pull elephants out of the forest and into agricultural fields since most of the common crops like paddy and sugarcane are also grasses selected for their nutritional value and therefore much more appetizing than wild plants in the forest.
  • Throughout Asia, rapid deforestation has isolated elephant herds within forest that are too small to sustain them. Therefore, elephants sometimes raid crops when there is insufficient food in the remaining forests.
  • Elephants are also pulled through agricultural fields or palm oil plantations if they need to cross them to get to other forests. Elephants migrate to take advantage of seasonally available food resources and will use crop fields in and around their traditional migration routes.
  • Another rubber band will pull elephants deep into the safety of undisturbed forests to give birth and raise young, but also if people chase the elephants out of agricultural fields by setting off fire crackers or try to kill the elephants for food and ivory, or even as pests.
Mapping the pachyderms needs, routes and obstacles
Part of each AREAS project is to develop a Global Information Systems (GIS) database to accurately map the important features for elephants and rhinos within the landscape. These include food resources, forest habitat, human-elephant conflicts, elephant migration routes, as well as roads and other potential barriers to elephant and rhino dispersal.

Mitigating wildlife-human conflict
Accurate maps help managers to decipher what forces are pulling at elephants, to better understand elephant behavior, and to create land-use plans that avoid situations where human and elephant interests collide. Such land-use plans benefit human enterprises by avoiding conflicts with wildlife and are critical for protecting vital habitat and resources for elephants and rhinos to survive.

Sorting out the neighbourhood for humans and elephants
AREAS is working with local authorities within priority landscapes to create land-use plans that preserve wildlife. For example, AREAS Riau is working with authorities there to create a Managed Elephant Range (MER). This MER would consist of a core areas of protected forest connected by corridors and surrounded by sustainable logging and silviculture to keep elephants within the forests and out of oil palm plantations, which they damage.

Without maps that show important wildlife areas it is not possible to come up with an effective land-use policy and without such a policy, the elephants of Riau and many other places across Asia will most likely disappear.

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