Human-elephant conflict is nothing new in India, where people and pachyderms have coexisted for millennia. But a new video, taken on June 29, 2018 at a tea plantation near Munnar in the south of the country, shows the perils of coming too close to these large animals.
Sources say that the wild elephant had approached a man and his much smaller captive elephant who were working on the plantation at the time. Locals claim that this particular wild pachyderm was known to have displayed past aggressive behavior.
The video shows a friend of the mahout, or elephant driver, calling after the wild elephant to coax it away from the captive elephant. The wild elephant then runs after the man who is already fleeing down the hill. Luckily for the man, the elephant slips and falls, ending the dangerous pursuit.
The Bigger Picture
It’s fortunate that neither party was injured in this dispute, as conflict between humans and elephants is by no means harmless. According to government figures, elephants killed 800 people between 2006 and 2016 in a single northeastern Indian state. And the government reports that an average of one person per day is killed by a tiger or elephant.
Interactions between humans and elephants are inevitable in a country where many families rely on their small farms for survival, and elephants are forced from their natural habitat by deforestation and development. (Related: Can Bees Help Save Indian Elephants From Train Strikes?)
According to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, “70 percent of [India’s] rural households still depend primarily on agriculture for their livelihood, with 82 percent of farmers being small and marginal.”
Research suggests that in many areas where Asian elephants live, a majority of their habitat has been effected by development and fragmentation. And the animals are classified as endangered by the International Union for Conservation of Nature, with a population decline of at least 50 percent over the past three generations.
What’s Being Done?
Farmers in the area have tried to build fences, keep someone on guard to bang pots together at night when an intruder wanders onto the farm, and some have planted chili peppers around the perimeter of their farm to irritate the taste buds of unwanted guests.
None of these methods have proven to be flawless deterrents, but the hope is that they can mitigate crop loss without jeopardizing the safety of the animals.
The region’s cultural and religious traditions generally promote respect for wildlife and many farmers tend to opt for non-violent methods of mitigating crop loss. Although conflict is bound to continue, both humans and animals benefit from creative solutions that are both effective and respectful.