Setting up observation posts for the study
Setting up observation posts for the study

Taking Account of the Elephant's Behaviour

Why is this project so important?

Conflict between people and elephants is an intractable, complex challenge wherever they share the same landscape. As settlements encroach on and degrade elephant habitat, and infrastructure further fragments the habitat that remains, human-elephant conflict (HEC) is becoming increasingly fraught throughout Asian elephant range countries. HEC leads to crop losses, property damage, injury, and loss of life on both sides. Efforts to mitigate this threat range from elephant deterrents and translocations to decoy food and early warning systems. Many strategies work in many places, but there is no single solution, and elephants, being the intelligent problem-solvers that they are, can adapt their behaviour to overcome some strategies completely. But what if conflict could be prevented before it begins? What if there was another way of looking at the problem: from the perspective of the elephants themselves.

Project Partner: Hunter College, City University of New York

Duration: 2018 - Present

Elephant population in the project area: 200

Project goals

To use an elephant-centred approach to develop new ways of mitigating human-elephant conflict.

What we do

Tough, long-standing challenges need innovative and creative solutions. With this project, we’re supporting research that could turn HEC mitigation strategies on their head. By studying individual elephant behaviour in the wild this project aims to untangle the roles of elephant personality, risk-taking, dominance, and decision-making that lead some elephants to become hugely problematic for local communities, while others make for more peaceful neighbours. Are individual elephants acting opportunistically as they pass through a field? Or are they regularly raiding the same field as part of their routine? Are they mainly destructive, without consuming much of what they destroy? And what determines how an elephant responds to its surrounding? This novel, experimental approach seeks to get to the root causes of these differences, an understanding of which could shed light on new opportunities, and new hope, for humane, peaceful, and long-term HEC prevention.

More information:
Read the October 2018 interview with project leader Dr Josh Plotnik in Yale Environment 360 here