Human-Elephant Conflict in Asia
Humans and elephants in Asia have a long history of living and working alongside each other. Hindu and Buddhist religious traditions accord the elephant a sacred status and humans have been taming, training and riding elephants for millennia. The loss of traditional forms of employment, particularly in logging, has resulted in welfare problems not just for elephants, but also for their handlers. Both of these issues present a challenge for how the two species can share space and live together.
The rise in Human-Elephant Conflict has been the result of the rapid rise of the human population in Asia. Approximately 20% of the global human population shares the present shrinking range of the remaining 30,000 Asian elephants. This small population is further fragmented into ten different sub-populations with fewer than 1000 individuals living in any one contiguous area.
Incidents of elephants raiding crops and villages are on the rise. This causes losses to human property and, sometimes, human lives. Retaliation by villagers often results in killings of these elephants. Experts already consider such confrontations to be the leading cause of elephant deaths in Asia.
This human-elephant conflict ‘war’ is particularly harsh in India and Sri Lanka. India sees approximately 300 people killed per year by elephants and in 2012 alone, over 60 people were killed by elephants in Sri Lanka. Unfortunately over 250 elephants have consequently been killed by farmers defending their crops in Sri Lanka.
Poaching of Asian elephants for ivory, skin and meat is also becoming a serious problem in many countries, especially in southern India and in north-east India where some people eat elephant meat.
In Asian elephants, only males carry tusks and therefore poaching is aimed exclusively at males. Selective removal of tuskers for their ivory may lead to an increase in the proportion of tuskless males in the population and a skew towards females in elephant populations.