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India: up to 300 people may be killed annually in human-elephant conflicts

Because most areas that form elephant habitat or range within Asia are close to or adjoining human settlement, there is often conflict between animals migrating or foraging for food, and local people.

Elephant-human conflict poses a grave threat to their continued existence. Studies on conflict between elephants and humans in Asia and in Africa have identified crop raiding as the main form of conflict.

Elephant-human conflict is a result of habitat loss and fragmentation. When elephants and humans interact, there is conflict from crop raiding, injuries and deaths to humans caused by elephants, and elephants being killed by humans for reasons other than ivory and habitat degradation.

Elephants cause damage amounting from a few thousand dollars to millions of dollars. Every year, 100 humans (in some years it may be 300 people) and 40-50 elephants are killed during crop raiding in India.

Lethal retaliation against elephants
Such encounters foster resentment against the elephants amongst the human population and this can result in elephants being viewed as a nuisance and killed. This was illustrated in the case of >60 elephants found dead in retaliation incidents in NE India and Sumatra in 2001, poisoned by plantation workers.

Human-elephant conflict can take their toll both on human lives and property as well as elephant populations. Ways of reducing or resolving such conflicts are vital for the viable conservation of Asian elephants.

Elephants across Asia live in a variety of habitats and landscapes. These include large contiguous areas surrounded by crop fields, or in highly degraded areas with other agricultural encroachments and they are also found in fragmented landscapes with a mosaic of crop fields, plantations and patches of forest.

The pattern of crop raiding and the immediate reasons that induce elephants to raid crops vary. Elephants may prefer feeding on crops when compared to wild forage because of their higher nutritive content and palatability.

However, latest studies on Asian elephants living in contiguous compact habitats show that not all elephants in a population raid crops. However, in highly fragmented landscapes, the entire population may be involved in elephant-human conflict.

In addition to these direct conflicts between humans and elephants, elephants also suffer indirect costs like degradation of habitat and loss of food plants.