Course:CONS200/2021/Dealing with human-elephant conflict in East Africa

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Image of an Africa elephant walking on the prairie.

The human-elephant conflicts(HEC) had been existed for a quite a long time. In east Africa, most people know the threat posed by poachers who hunt these elephants for their tusks, but another more pervasive risk is the growing tension between elephants and the local communities. As their habitats shrink, elephants are progressively forced into closer contact with people, resulting in more frequent and severe conflict over space and resources with consequences ranging from crop raiding to reciprocal loss of life elephants are coming out the reserve, coming out of the conservancy, going to people’s farms[1]. Due to the development of the country and the increase of population, the government expropriated the habitat of wild animals, so there has been a marked increase in competition between humans and wildlife for land and resources[2].Since last century, many organizations and also government have begun to study human-elephant conflicts and set up plenty of solutions or mitigations to alleviate them, as well as to make efforts for elephant conservation and preservation

History trail and Current status

The problem of human-elephant conflict started early in 1900s and began to ease in the mid-1990s under the leadership of the IUCN African Elephant Expert Group and the Human Elephant Working Group [3]. Over the next 15 years, the idea of HEC mitigation spread around the world and had a huge impact on communities. Elephants usually shuttle back and force from Kyambura to Queen Elizabeth National Park and Kibale National Park, and destroy crops along the ways leading to conflicts with locals [4]. The following timeline indicating an example of the HEC problem occurred in Uganda, Kibale National Park, which is located at the northwest of East Africa, and the formation and transformation of human-elephant relationships and conflicts apply to much of East Africa.

Early 1900s: Forests expanded when people abandoned agriculture that the inhabitants were no longer able to repel due to the depredations of game[5].

1906s: Africa was under the control of British colonial authorities and the authorities eliminate the 'native' hunting but ordinance the wildlife as crown property at the same time that legitimized the capture of enormous revenue[5].

1916s: Local settlers were forced to migrate due to the ‘wanton destruction’ and ‘complete devastation’ of farms by elephants[5].

Image of the beautiful Kibale National Park

1923s: Elephant Control Department was firstly established (later renamed), and The Ugandan Game Department set out to partition Uganda into wildlife and agricultural areas, or called the ‘elephant and no-elephant areas’ to control and confine wildlife to parks (especially elephants)[5]. Elephants reacted at this period of time with ‘evil-intentioned sagacity’ and ‘truculence’, and maintained ‘strongholds’. By the mid 20th century, the ability of the central government of controlling access to wildlife in parks was threatened by 'poaching, population growth and civil unrest'[5].

1971s: Uganda plunged into a brutal war lasting over 15 years and the Ugandan government lost control of wildlife and parks entirely. The Kibale’s herds of elephants were largely decimated[5].

1987s: Society rebuilt, biodiversity conservation was endorsed[5].

1993: The Kibale national park was partitioned by the government for around 760 km2, over 30,000 residents of the adjacent Kibale Game Corridor were forcibly evicted[5].

The population of elephants in Uganda had changed from around 30,000 in the 1960s to 2,000 between 1982 to 1983, 1,900 individuals between 1995 to 1996 and finally increased to 2,400 individuals between 1999 to 2003[4]. Not only in Uganda, in the overall relationship, the trend for the elephant population has shifted from mass killing to conservation to positive population growth. Currently, the population of elephants has increased to some extent in many of the countries in East Africa in the past years due to the effective conservation or preservation. For example, in Murchison Falls elephant populations have increased by 156.7 percent since 1995 and from 1,008 in 1995 to 2,497 by 2004 in Queen Elizabeth National Park[4].

Causes of the conflicts

Historically, many specific conflicts between humans and elephants occurred and may be caused by several reasons mainly including economic benefits, resources competition and the land allocation.

Crop raiding

In the last century, conflicts between humans and elephants were represented in the crop-raiding. As people lived scattered in forests and moved to better soil from time to time, the distribution of planted crops would be embedded in patches within the forest[6]. This unwittingly kept the forest in favour of the elephants, which led to their frequent destruction of the land, thus creating food shortages that were not alleviated until the population redistribution around 1960[6]. The protection of land from crop-raiding of elephants also leads to a large human population of injury and death and economic losses[7]. Until now, this problem has been reduced quite a lot and elephants are not the most frequent crop-raiding species, but it still exists for some extent[8].

Image of a seized ivory trade

The ivory trade

Ivory trade is a classic example of leading to the HEC problem due to economic benefits. In the 20th century, the trade of ivory remained at a high level until the 1930s when the number of elephants decreased[6]. Since the 1960s, the economic level in many areas was on the rise, there were more rich people and the trade increased again. At that time, the government was in a period of uncontrolled trade, and the elephant population increased or decreased in the fluctuating demand and even disappeared completely in certain areas later on[6].

Large population of human/elephant

Either historically or recently, the large population of both elephant and human exist are always a main component leading to the competition for land. The higher the population of elephants, more demand for resources they will have, ends up with more conflicts they have with humans. For example, Zimbabwe contained the elephant population for around 90,000, but the country's capacity is only about 40,000, so resource conflicts will be very serious[8]. Similarly, as the human population grows, more land will be appropriated for agriculture, and elephants will be replaced by farming, logging, and mining. As other infrastructure projects are built, competition between humans and elephants for land resources will intensify[6].

Competition for resources

Competition for resources is also a big problem for a growing population despite for crops. Competition for water, for example, involves both humans and elephants digging wells and using dams and springs to get water during the dry season or when there is not enough seasonal rainfall[9]. In other words, in the limited water resources, humans and elephants will form a competitive relationship resulting in conflict. On the other hand, elephants may kill cattle in the process of fetching water, but humans will not be compensated, which will exacerbate the conflict between humans and elephants[9]. Moreover, the consumption of these livestock will cause unnecessary economic damage. One study put the cost of 68 elephant attacks at between $13 and $280 per farmer[10].

Human-elephant conflict

African elephant (Addo) 20.jpg

Human-elephant conflict takes many forms from crop raiding and infrastructure destruction, to interference with normal activities and injury or death to both humans and elephants[3].Human elephant conflict emerged as one of the most vital problem all around Africa and so in Asia. With the increasingly arising of human and elephant conflict and the massive ravages or threat that poses from both group towards each other, the most common form of human-elephant conflict is crop raiding, which may bring about destructive economic losses for villagers. And this pressing problem is due to the human destruction of elephant habitats and the rapid natural vegetation loss and fragmentation, leaving the elephant in a state of interference and starvation. Under these circumstances, elephants having been venturing out of their natural habitat and the reserve, have caused severe conflict with the local population. And with the rapid development of country and growth of population, it is predictable that human-elephant conflict becomes more and more frequent and severe over land and resources. larger croplands were more vulnerable to crop attacks. Crop damage was found more frequent and was more severe in the more deforested landscapes. The landscapes with higher human density and where local people frequently encountered elephants, were at higher risk to elephant attack[11] The overlapping living space between humans and elephants will cause direct contact with a high frequency, which means marked increasing possibility of the destruction of houses and villages by elephants and the killing of elephants by humans. In the long contact between humans and elephants, encountering adult male elephants in estrus and female elephants with children in the wild can be of great danger to local people as well. And in the escalating hostility between human and elephant, elephants may take a series of revenge actions against human beings. Hence, the land-use plans should avoid the current habitat and potential migration areas of elephants to mitigate HEC and minimize the loss of life and property of local people due to HEC. In addition, the poaching of elephants may mainly rely on local residents suffering property losses for the damage to crops by elephants and people who have no means of support and cannot able to survive. Since habitat having an abundant source of food for wildlife is the essential need for survival, the study and protection of the habitat of elephants is fundamental to the mitigation of human-elephant conflict. But the reality situation of HEC is that most of it happens in poor countries where people are struggling to survive, and the intense competition for living resources makes the mitigation of human-elephant conflict an intractable problem.

Rural communities may regard elephants as agricultural pests and an impediment to a better standard of living.[12]Rural communities have a more negative attitude towards elephants than people who live in cities due to the negative impact elephants have on farmers' livelihoods. And there are still many factors that influence people's attitudes towards elephants and the preservation of them. For example, the local culture, the local people's educational background, the means by which people make a living and the authorities' policies and propaganda about HEC. In most cases, people in the rural communities may kill elephants causing damage of crops, vegetables, and fruit for promoting the qualities of life. But the way HEC is treated in different countries can make a huge difference in the tolerance of the local population for elephants that causes property damage to people. In the Xishuangbanna Nature Reserve, China, all villagers have the right to report losses and receive compensation when they are affected. Government departments are responsible for insurance, and insurance companies are responsible for wildlife damage compensation [13] This gives one way to solve the problem caused by elephants and make to the coexistence between human and elephant, even if the villagers suffer economic losses by elephants and do not have a favorable impression of elephants. But giving reasonable compensation requires adequate financial support by the country, and in the implementation of the proposed mitigation measures may mainly depend on the situation of economic development in those HEC areas. In addition, HEC mitigation in other ways it involves using many apparently unrelated measures in a package and working with both people and elephants. Largely ineffectual if used alone, but when used together, many disparate countermeasures definitely produce synergy. These management authorities and practitioners on the ground it should always aim to reduce the problem to tolerable levels rather than expect to eliminate the problem altogether. At last, in all of these cases, HEC management requires “solid support from all levels of government, strong commitment on the part of wildlife management authorities” which is the development and implementation of integrated land-use plans which then it informed the use of available tools and methods and as well as climate of trust between the diversity of negotiating parties on the ground.

Current Management Strategies and mitigation methods

Traditional Methods

Traditional methods include most of the self-defence measures taken by local farmers to protect their crops from elephant damage, and broadly include local methods that have evolved from historical traditional practices. Traditional methods include different local differences in customs. For example, using noise and fire to drive the elephants out of the fields, or in areas where there is faith, praying collectively, erecting human statues, etc. to beg God to drive away the elephants.

  • Crop guarding:

Crop guarding is simply a method of deterrence, coupled with some means of alerting communities to the elephants. Some places used things like scarecrows to intimidate, but the elephants took it in stride after realizing that it posed no threat.[14]

  • Noise:

Banging drums or making of noise of percussive metal, firecrackers, thunder, weapons, firecrackers, trip wire alarms, recorded elephant distress sounds, infrasound, etc. is one of the most common tactics. For example, farmers around the Maputo Elephant Sanctuary use noise from banging on cans and pots to scare the elephants, and in Africa and Asia, people use whipping to imitate the sound of gunshots, etc. [8]

  • Fire:

Most wild animals are afraid of fire, and elephants are no exception. Setting fires at field boundaries or at the entrance to fields where elephants enter can provide a short-term deterrent, but the duration of the fire is too short if large areas of forest are not cut down. This method leaves elephant habitat devastated because farmers need to cut down trees to maintain protective fires. But at the same time deforestation of large areas brings irreversible damage to the environment. [14]Other materials can be fired to increase the deterrent effect of fire. In the Democratic Republic of Congo, seeds such as chili peppers were added to the fire to create a spread of odor to chase away elephants. [8]Others hang kerosene lamps from their houses, but this method is expensive to maintain.

  • Physical barriers, field boundaries:

In their most traditional form, physical barrires may be ropes or cords, etc. enclosing the field, sometimes with bells attached. But elephants are far more destructive than that. Expensive electric fences form fences around villages and farmland in small community-type enclosures, but again there are parts of the elephant that can destroy it.[8]Clearing the field boundaries served as a simple buffer, clearing open space near the fields where the elephants naturally avoided the roads seemed to reduce crop depredation.[14]

Lethal control

Killing is widely used as a quick solution to human-elephant conflict. Killing animals has always been a highly controversial and emotional issue, and is morally and culturally unacceptable in most Asian countries. Meanwhile animals that are culled may be replaced by another problem animal.[8]

  • Killing problem elephants:

This method is used for the purpose of immediate relief. This method is implemented quickly, often shooting elephants on the spot in damaged fields. Shooting is usually conducted by trained wildlife personnel working as problem animal control teams. In the PAC program, a "culprit" elephant is identified that is a known and persistent crop raider, or has caused human mortality. Each elephant's shot is recorded and reported to department.[14]

  • Attacking elephants:

Attacks on elephants have ranged from sticks and stones to torches and guns, often with the intent of trying to scare away or expel an injured elephant. However, this often leads to fatalities on both sides, as the nature of the interaction is highly aggressive. Wounded elephants generally become more aggressive And are prone to attack humans. Elephants often die months later from wound infections.[14]

  • Traps, spikes etc:

Sharpened stones, stakes and spikes were placed on elephant trails close to the fields, and pitfall traps were also used. Same with the use of weapons to attack elephants, injured elephants become unpredictably aggressive and often die from infection.

  • Capture, transfer and tame:

PAC organizes the taming of adult male elephants because they take more risks and have a higher percentage of crop raiders. Translocated animals may return to their original location or create problems in a new location. In general, there is little hope for successful domestication.[8]

Land-use planning

Land use planning is a long-term process, for example by zoning the land, creating tourist patches to preserve elephant habitat and increasing economic development in the tourism industry, or to translocation with conflict animals. The relocation of problem animals to an area that reduces contact with humans and their crops from being shot while restoring protected areas affected by poaching and providing specific actions for affected communities and donors[14]. There are many regions where this work is being done today. [15] Transfer to areas with tourism value or hunting concessions is one of the most frequent cases, for example, elephants in Africa are domesticated and trained to work, thereby generating income.

Conservation/ Preservation of elephant

Elephant is defined as focal species, which means conserve elephant in Africa not only point at preserving ‘elephant’, but also preserve other big mammals along with their habitats or the linkage of the landscapes. Human activities and global climate change have brought serious challenges to the survival of most wild animals. The African elephant has already classified as vulnerable on the IUCN Red List. African elephants share their habitat with numerous endangered species such as white and black rhinoceros, mountain bongos, Ethiopian wolves, and cheetahs. Due to their potential status as ecosystem engineers, African Elephants and their conservation have become essential components of habitat conservation[16]. Improving the habitat biodiversity and maintaining the ecological balance for the elephants are matters of great consequence because the elephants cannot live alone in the wild without food growing in its habitat and interacting with other creatures. In addition, habitat conservation also means a good habitat structure, which first requires the establishment of a protected area in the right habitat and then ensures the long-term survival of the species in conservation, for example, the adequate food, available water, effective conservation, and sufficient living space. Human beings are closely related to animals. Protecting animals means protecting human beings, and loving animals means loving human beings. The conservation of elephants is not only for the ecosystem and the nature environment, but also for the future generations of human. This is a win-win situation for elephants and humans, as good habitat benefits all creatures living in the same area, including humans.

Since 2003, further refinement and reassessment of human-elephant conflict mitigation methods can be grouped into three categories: biological, physical, and governance. The difference between these three approaches lies in the measures taken with animals and those used for conflict zones. Biological and physical are mostly used in the short term, while the latter are long-term measures of the cooperative type that rely heavily on official policy and administration, often located outside the conflict zone . Great human and elephant mitigation have carried out and the extensive experimentation with elephant fencing Cameroon[17] showed that elephant fencing could be broadly classified into five types, based on layout in the landscape and physical specifications[18]. Such mitigation I do believe that they are a very effective strategy that they now being imposing on each area in Cameroon. The implication for mitigation is that of removal of the problem component of the population that does not much reduce the numbers of elephant raids because other recruits in the occasional raider sub-population merely replace the habitual raiders. In such case, the problem of Human Elephant Conflict will be in great control but arise a great friendly and environment respond from groups towards to each other. Also, some of the great effects of this physical mitigation was the “extended full barrier fence (long, often separating land uses like national parks from agriculture)”[19] and as well as the partial interface fence open-ended but incorporating natural barriers for example the escarpment, lake. And in addition to the actions of the authorities and short-term measures, propaganda and education can also play a very important role in the conversation of elephants. The propaganda and education of elephant or other animal protection should incorporate the concept of animal protection into the national education. Human beings and nature coexisting harmoniously will eventually be beneficial to the locals themselves.

Manipulating reproduction

Elephants have the longest gestation of any mammal, at 18 or 20 months and they also have complex reproductive cycles, making it very difficult to produce the next generation. Therefore, establishing elephant breeding bases that manipulate reproduction for both female and male elephant to process human intervention to either control the birth and also death is a very effective conservation measure.


Policies such as environmental policies, wildlife policies or elephant policies are all sufficient to manage and conserve the population of elephant in East Africa. Many economically underdeveloped countries, such as Malawi, Mauritius, Namibia, South Africa and Tanzania, have animal welfare or protection laws. Besides the new technology and measures used to conserve the elephants, obviously, the situation of elephant conservation also depends heavily on the official policy and administration. The most effective and sustainable way to conserve the elephants is the establishment of the official policies and law based on the purpose of preventing the extinction of elephants and other endangered species, maintaining balance within the ecosystem. And it should combine economic benefits, the needs of the local people and the conservation of elephants. However, no matter any policy has its limitations, national policies and regulations cannot be applicable to all places, wildlife protection as a regional environmental problem should also pay attention to the self-governance of rural communities.


Bessie Love and an elephant in The Sawdust Ring.jpg

HEC is a long-standing problem, the protection of the elephant is also a project that needs to be maintained continuously. At present, we have mastered some technologies that are convenient for capturing elephant dynamics at any time, such as using GPS satellite radio-tracking to monitor elephant activities[20]. Meanwhile, the protection of elephants can also be improved in the process. In addition to these methods, people still should seek better measures and solutions for them, finding the balance between the welfare of local people and the survival of elephants, properly dealing with the development of local economy and the balance within the ecosystem, calling on more people to join in the protection activities of endangered animals. It is these unremitting efforts that make it possible for people to coexist with elephants and for humans to live in harmony with nature.


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