Fostering human-Asian elephant coexistence with community involvement in the Anamalai hills, southern India
by M. Ananda Kumar, Nature Conservation Foundation
The loss of human lives, crops, and property to large and potentially dangerous wildlife is a major challenge for conservation and human well-being around the world. In India, conflicts between people and wild Asian elephants causes around 400 human and over 100 elephant deaths annually. About three-fourths of the Asian elephant population lives outside Protected wildlife reserves alongside millions of people.
Promoting human-elephant coexistence is imperative and the only lasting solution to conflicts between people and elephants. Reactive methods used in the past such as capture and translocation of elephants and driving elephants from human-use areas, and retaliatory persecution have neither resolved conflicts nor helped in protecting elephants in landscapes.
Empowering local communities to adopt pro-active methods using simple, and appropriate technological interventions concordant with their livelihoods is essential for effective management for human-elephant conflict. This creates win-win solutions for people and elephants in critical landscapes and serves as a model for human – wildlife coexistence around the world.
The project addresses the challenge of integrating human-elephant coexistence measures into local communities and institutions, and governance with the forest departments and village administration as a "bottom-up" approach rather than "top-down" strategy so that these measures are sustained and expanded.
The project aims to promote sustainable human-elephant coexistence in the Valparai region in the Anamalai hills of Western Ghats of India, a global biodiversity hotspot. The plateau has been used by around 120 elephants in year and supporting livelihood of 70,000 people in tea and coffee plantations interspersed with rainforest fragments.
Human fatalities due to elephants is a major cause of safety concern for people which occur in surprise encounters without people being unaware of elephant presence and their movements. The project plays an important role in the on-going efforts to provide sustained human safety while reducing conflicts between people and elephants. This will be carried out by strengthening Elephant Information Network through innovative simple and participative technological interventions with local community.
Elephant presence alerts over text and voice calls to people's mobile phones using bulk SMS and outbound calls over internet platforms. And also encouraging local people's participation in the functionality of GSM based mobile phone operated red beacons to alert residents in sensitive areas of elephants. Nevertheless, the project also identifies the importance of awareness and sensitization for adequate precautionary and preventive measures to be adopted by people while moving through elephant presence areas to avoid fatal accidents with elephants.
The project realizes the need for a shift from reactive problem elephant approach to a pro-active problem location approach for human-elephant coexistence in modified landscapes.
For more information please visit www.ncf-india.org
On 28 April 2017 we received an update from M. Ananda Kumar, from the Nature Conservation Foundation:
"I am very happy to share the news that our work on in Valparai has inspired many people/Forest Departments in few states where they have started implementing SMS as a way to alert people in advance about elephants. About an year ago, BBC Earth channel had filmed our elephant work as a part of their series on India Nature's Wonder Land. The link to the episode is available for us now at http://www.dailymotion.com/video/x5ewjy8_bbc-hidden-india-part-2-lands-of-mountains_tv. You may enjoy watching it.
Support from Van Tienhoven Foundation has been critical and integral to our small steps to reduce frictions between elephants and people and encourage to share spaces with these amazing gentle giants.
Thank you once again.