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India is home to nearly half of all wild Asian elephants, and nearly half of all these elephants are forced to live outside forest protected areas owing to loss of their natural habitat due to human encroachment.

These elephants live in small fragmented forest and enter towns and villages in search of food. In doing so, they come in contact with farmers determined to protect their crops. Farmers not accustomed to elephants often use ineffective methods to drive them away, often contributing to a larger problem. In India alone, human-elephant conflict is known to claim the lives of 400 humans and 150 elephants each year, in addition to affecting nearly 1 million hectares of crops. (Rangarajan et al., 2010)

This conflict has emerged as the greatest challenge towards the conservation of Asian elephants in the 21st century. Elephants that have come in close contact with farmers tend to be more aggressive, which in turn make it harder for wildlife officials involved in elephant management to tackle the problem.

The Frontier Elephant Programme was started in 2013 through the collaboration of researchers from Foundation for Ecological Research, Advocacy and Learning (FERAL), National Institute for Advanced Studies (NIAS), Asian Nature Conservation Foundation(ANCF) and the Indian Institute of Science(IISc). The project aims to work with farmers, local organisations and the forest department to find long-lasting solutions.

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.

The Elephant in the Town Commons

Addressing the issue of human-elephant conflict and food security among farmers.

This project is set up in the Nilgiri Biosphere Reserve, a region that houses the world’s largest population of Asian elephants of around 10,000.

The elephant in the town commons project aims to work with farmers and local organisations to safely and effectively monitor elephants, through the use of trap cameras and early warning systems. The first phase of the project concentrates on Palya, Udubarani and Shanubhoganahalli villages located near Cauvery Wildlife Sanctuary and Ramanagara Forest Division, respectively, in the South Indian states of Karnataka and Tamil Nadu.

This project also aims at introducing agricultural practices and lifestyle modifications that will create a safer environment for both elephants and humans.

My Elephant in My Village

Defining strategies for mitigation of human-elephant conflict across landscapes

Continuing from the Elephant in the Town Commons project, this project will create site-specific solutions to mitigate human-elephant conflict. For this purpose, three distinct villages are chosen that vary is their location, level of urbanisation and familiarity of elephant behaviour. 

1. The enclosure village:
These small and remote villages are located within large protected areas.  They have limited electricity and are dependent on rains for irrigation. Elephants mostly enter these villages to access ponds and crop-raiding islimited mainly to the harvest season. Although these villages have the highest level of interaction with elephants, they have the least levels of conflict as they are more adept in dealing with elephants.

2. The peripheral village:
These villages are fairly large in size and are situated on the border of forested habitats. Farmers, here, have access to irrigation facilities enabling them to plant subsistence as well as commercial crops. The level of conflict due to crop raiding is moderate as elephants can easily access these villages.

3. The peri-urban village:
Peri-urban villages are villages that are undergoing rapid transformations due to their proximity to urban centres.  They are well irrigated through a system of canals and bore wells, allowing for the production of commercial and subsistence crops year round. Conflict levels are much higher here as people are unaware of how to respond to elephants. This has resulted in villagers requesting that these elephants be captured.

For the first year, this project will be carried out in three villages: Palayam, Udubarani and Shanbhognahalli. Palayam and Udubarani are both situated in Tamil Nadu and constitute an enclosure village and a peripheral village, respectively. Shanbhognahalli, in Karnataka, is an example of a village that is rapidly developing due to its connectivity to urban resources.

In order to come up with solutions that will work for each village, we will work with local volunteers: training them to monitor elephants, set up and maintain physical barriers at strategic entry points in villages, and find unique solutions to prevent loss of life and property to elephants and humans.