Asian Elephant (Elephas maximus)
Mohamed bin Zayed Species project number 1025931
Human-elephant conflict is one of the major threats to existence of elephants outside Protected Areas. Nearly 400 people and over 100 elephants lose their lives annually due to intense conflicts reveal the seriousness for conservation of elephants in human-dominated landscapes in India. The 220 km² of Valparai plateau within the Anamalai hills in southern Western Ghats is an important conservation area for elephants. The presence of widely scattered rainforest fragments and riparian patches within tea and coffee plantations are the only refuge for elephant movements across the plateau into surrounding protected areas. On other hand, there are about 70,000 people working in tea and coffee plantations which are owned mainly by six major national and international companies, for their livelihood, compel co-inhabitance in the plantation - forest matrix of the plateau.
Elephant movements and conflicts on the Valparai plateau
The Valparai plateau has been intensively used by nearly 80 - 100 elephants annually. The study (April 2010 - March 2011 ) identified that elephants have shown consistent movement patterns which indicate strong fidelity to their ranges. Nadu Ar-Sholayar Riverine system which flows in the middle of the plateau is vital for elephant movements. This highlights the need for developing native vegetation along this river with the involvement of local companies to facilitate free passage for elephants and reduce incidences of conflict. Fatal encounters with elephants and loss of property damage to buildings which store food grains such as rice, dhal, lentils, and salt by elephants caused fear and trauma in local people and reducing their tolerance levels. The human-elephant conflict situation was primarily due to lack of advance intimation about elephant presence
During the study period, elephants have stayed for 732 herd-days (number of days one or more elephant herds or a single herd split into multiple sub-herds stayed on the plateau). Though elephant have stayed throughout the year, their movement was active during the months between October and March (n = 573 herd-days, 78%). The number of property damage incidents for the year 2010-11 were 125. Most of the damages (n = 78, 62%) occurred between September and January with a peak during months of November and December (n = 41).
Implementation of early warning measures
During this project, we have initiated elephant information network by conveying elephant location information in the following ways:
- Establishing conflict response team (CRU): A team of experienced people from indigenous community who track elephants within plantation limits during the day and record information on date, time, identity of elephant herd, herd composition, incidence of conflicts, type of habitat, and movement with handheld GPS. The information from CRU was intimated to the elephant information centre on daily basis.
- Elephant tracking and use of Television network: Location and tracking of elephants from Conflict Response Unit (CRU) and information from Forest Department field staff and local people was displayed as a ‘crawl’ on local cable TV channels after 5 PM on a daily basis to reach out to people as an early elephant intimation system. Currently, the cable channel covers nearly 5,000 families (approximately 20,000 people) on the Valparai plateau. Information about elephant presence was broadcasted on local television channel which also carried an emergency contact number. Response calls to contact number were systematically noted for analyzing the effectiveness of measure.
- Installation of elephant alert indicators: In place of simple red lights as proposed earlier during the study, with additional support from partner organizations such as Elephant Family, Forest Department, and local companies, an improved version of semi-automated lights were designed. The alert indicators are mobile operated with LED-lights installed in 24 locations. These lights signal the presence of elephants and their movements within a 1km radius of each light. Each indicator is equipped with a SIM card and fitted with red flashing LED bulbs on a 30 feet pole and are located in strategic places that are visible from up to 1km distance. Each light can be operated from any of three registered mobile phones. At least two persons from every “light locality” are registered with each light and are responsible for activating these lights when information regarding elephants is passed onto them.
- Awareness campaigns through audio visual mediums: In an attempt to provide awareness and education to local residents, a film was made emphasizing the importance of understanding the landscape and sharing space with elephants. The film portrays various opportunities made available to the people by conservation group and plantation management to avoid accidental fatal encounters. The film titled 'Living with elephants by Evanscence Studios is available on YouTube at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MWcdMjv41ho.
As a follow up to the project activities in the following years between 2011 - 14, new addition to the early warning systems was made to reach to the people more effectively by the use of Bulk SMS. Mobile numbers of people working in the plantations were collected and SMS about elephant presence was sent as a text message in English and Tamil. This created a my message attitude and provided a platform for people to enquire and convey information about elephants in their locality greatly increasing the awareness of elephants in their region.
Effectiveness of conflict measures
People have received these mitigation measures positively. Effectiveness of these measures were gradually noticed as the local residents and companies made use of facilities made available. This greatly showed reactions from people in the form of tolerance and better management techniques in dealing with human-elephant conflict situations. This is apparent from the response calls to the dedicated mobile contact number on local Television Cable. A total of 347 response calls from people were received during the study period. Of the total calls, a majority of response calls (51.3%, n = 178 of 347 total calls) were to enquire about elephants whereas about 36.3% (n = 126) of calls were to convey about elephant presence, seek help from the Forest Department, and requesting for precautionary steps required to be taken to deal with human-elephant conflict situation. Rest of the calls were unrelated (8.6%, n = 30) and appreciation (3.7%, n = 13). Similarly, operation of alert indicators were easily adopted by local people where responsible persons turned the lights when elephants were seen within 1km distance from each light locality. Monitoring operations of red lights indicate that 98% of the time lights were operated by persons from local community within five months of installation as against the conservation group. This would also reveal that these measures also encouraged local community to share and participate responsibly in the management of human-elephant conflict.
Reduction in incidences of conflicts
The results of the study showed clearly in the following years. Positive results were visible in terms of reduction in conflict incidents by elephants as there was a gradual cooperation and coordinated efforts taken by people along with Forest Department field staff between 2009 - 2014 where incidences of damages declined from 125 and 150 in 2010-11 and 2011-12, respectively, to 88 incidents in 2012 - 13 and 97 incidents during 2013 - 14. Loss of human life gradually declined from four people in 2011 to zero in 2013. However, one death occurred in 2014 when warning messages were ignored which indicates the need for sensitization of people about early warning systems to be carried out on regular basis.
Project 1025931 location - India, Asia