Take plenty of time with members of the community that are dealing with a conflict with elephants. How many conflict events are happening in what time frame? Are they daily events or do elephants only come during certain months? Is it day or night conflict? Are they single bulls or whole family herds? Who do the community expect to assist them during conflict events? Is there an underlying conflict between the community and wildlife department that is adding to the stress? By establishing the frequency, intensity and source of the conflict, you can start to identify what resources and level of budget will be needed to resolve the problem.
Why are the elephants overlapping with the farm or property in the first place? Are they looking for food or water? Is the farmer attracting elephants by growing crops they love to eat? Or is the farm or property blocking a natural migration route for elephants? It may be possible to reduce the conflict situation at source by ensuring the elephants have open access to a source of water, can freely enter and exit a natural bush area for foraging, or to identify and move a fence that is blocking a natural migration path. Disturbance within a neighbouring national park (i.e. livestock grazing inside the park) can also push elephants out into communities. By identifying and removing any human-caused structures or reasons for the conflict starting in the first place, it may reduce the conflict for the long term.
Ask the community to map the movements of the elephants around the conflict issue – i.e. if elephants are entering a school compound ask a teacher to map their plot on a piece of paper and draw which direction the elephants typically enter the compound to cause damage. You may find that there is one weak point in the boundary defenses that needs focal attention for investing in deterrents. Don’t spend limited resources on boundary sides that do not have elephants breaking in. Use these maps to keep a record of events and to compare before & after behaviour once a barrier has gone up.
Once the site of conflict has been identified and any immediate solutions to free up barriers to the elephants’ natural migration paths have been cleared, try to work out how much time or labour resources the individual has. When working on a budget, think about:
If the individual doesn’t have a lot of time (i.e. he has a job away from his farm or tree plantation) that individual will typically need to be prepared to spend more funds on deterring elephants from his site of conflict. If an individual is a full time farmer or agronomist growing trees, they might be able to afford to spend more time and less income on their deterrent methods if they live and work on site and are able to respond immediately to approaching elephants.
Be wary of encouraging the use of expensive loans to construct deterrents to farms, property, or water tanks. If the farmer doesn’t have the ongoing resources to maintain that deterrent method it can quickly fall into disrepair and become useless and a waste of investment. Help them choose a combination of affordable methods that you know they can maintain for the long term. Photocopy or download & print the method sheets and leave with the farmer.
Its hard to change elephant behaviour or elephant migration routes that have been established over decades. However, encouraging behaviour change and educating community members when planning new developments is a more achievable task. When using this guide, do start with Chapter 1 – Understanding Elephants. This information will help educate community members, teachers, children and land use planners on why elephants behave as they do, and may help to explain why certain negative interactions are happening and how to avoid them in the first place.