Human-Elephant Conflict Needs More International Exposure

Elephant in Chobe. Photograph by Michael Schwartz.

By Michael Schwartz

The Western world desperately wants to save Africa’s elephants from poachers. But the public needs, and deserves, to know more about human-elephant conflict. Many elephant admirers living in the United States and Europe might not understand what is involved and how it plays out in the context of elephant conservation.

According to a 2007 paper “Human-Elephant Conflict Mitigation,” authored by Parker, Osborn, Hoare, and Niskanen, human-elephant conflict is “any human-elephant interaction which results in negative effects on human social, economic, or cultural life, on elephant conservation or on the environment.”

The authors note that human-elephant conflict has been observed in most of the 37 elephant range states on the African continent. This is strongly correlated with an increasing human population and the expansion of agricultural production. That elephants are compressed into ever-shrinking areas of wilderness results in additional ecological consequences.

Wildlife experts believe that one of the biggest threats to elephants is conflicts with rural farmers. The human population of Kenya, for example, jumped from roughly 13 million in 1975 to an estimated 44 million in 2013, leading to an increase in human-elephant conflict occurrences.

Botswana’s Pachyderm Conundrum

In 2013, the U.K. Institute of Commonwealth Studies published a thought-provoking blog post by Keith Somerville, the Institute’s Senior Research Fellow and lecturer in the School of Politics and International Relations at the University of Kent.

Entitled, Botswana’s Jumbo Dilemma—the expanding elephant population and the environment, Somerville wrote at length about the conundrum Botswana is facing as its burgeoning elephant numbers approach or exceed the carrying capacity of the land.

Nowhere is this quandary more evident than Chobe National Park during the dry season, according to Somerville. Even with natural elephant mortality occurring during dry spells, that hasn’t slowed down the accelerated rate of Chobe’s ecological destruction by large herds tearing down vast amounts of —> Read More