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Monitoring Asian Elephants and their Threats

Assessing movement patterns and disturbances influencing elephant behaviour at the landscape-level

In the span of the last decade, an increasing number of elephants, particularly males, have traversed beyond forests boundaries and adapted to a more tumultuous life closer to human settlements. They now live in small fragmented forests closer to villages where food and water are found in abundance.

The elephant’s natural habitat is deep within the forest, away from human disturbances. But there has been a rising number of cases of elephants wandering into towns and villages to feed on agricultural crops and drink from village ponds. What has driven this shift in their behaviour? By conducting landscape-level field surveys we will asses how elephants use their habitat, and evaluate how human disturbances influence their movement.

We aim to quantify the level of human activity within the Bangalore-Bannerghatta-Hosur districts of Karnataka and Tamil Nadu, and determine what impact this has on elephants. On the one hand, people living alongside forest enter it to collect firewood or to let their animals graze; and on the other hand, there are large scale development projects, such as the construction of roads railway-lines, mining activity, etc. How threatened do elephants feel by this activity? Does it cause elephants to permanently abandon the area or do they move away temporarily?

By understanding how these factors influence elephants we would be able to gauge their reaction to new development projects and approach cases of human-elephant conflict more knowledgeably. If elephants choose to migrate where will they go, and how equipped are we to handle this displacement?

The project will also oversee the installation of early warning systems, that will be operated by a group of trained locals, as well as explore the feasibility of a mechanical barrier, in order to aid the development of an action plan for conflict mitigation.