CLIC Abroad members Tom Grant, Professor of Journalism at Abraham Baldwin Agricultural College, and founding member Bhaskar Krishnamurthy are working to better understand the elephant human conflict in India. They will present what they have so far discovered in Sweden before the World Environmental Education Congress. Below is the presentation abstract and video further detailing what the human elephant conflict entails and how it is                                                          currently being handled.

Abstract WEEC 150604-1520

5. (Re) emerging concepts for environmental stewardship and sustainability

Resolving India’s human-elephant conflicts by adapting ancient mahout cultures to create lifetime care in the forest for troublesome elephants

* = Presenting author

Bhaskar Krishnamurthy* 1, Thomas Grant* 2

1CLIC Abroad, Kansas City, MO, 2Journalism, Abraham Baldwin Agricultural College, Tifton, GA, United States

Presentation format: Oral

Introduction: Elephants stand as a symbol of strength, courage and wisdom in India’s epics and history. However, in modern India, elephants and humans are in conflict. As forest cover shrinks and human development grows, elephants regularly raid crops and wander into developed areas. Casualties grow on both sides; more than 100 humans and 50 elephants are killed each year because of these conflicts. That’s why the India Forestry Department is reshaping ancient traditional duties of mahoutry to resolve a deadly modern problem.

Objectives: Over the past four years, international photographer Bhaskar Krishnamurthy, founder of CLIC Abroad, and Dr. Thomas Grant, Ph.D., of Abraham Baldwin Agricultural College, observed efforts of the Forestry Department to examine the ability of the government to adapt tribal mahout culture to resolve problems of elephant-human conflicts.

Methods: Through interviews and observations, the researchers documented the Forestry Department attempting to re-locate troublesome elephants to isolated forests and finding the animals return hundreds of kilometers to their original home range. Then the Forestry Department turned to the Jenu Kuruba to save elephants. For centuries, the Jenu Kuruba tribe in the Western Ghats of Southern India lived and worked with domesticated elephants. Now mahouts are being hired as employees of the Forestry Department. When elephants harm or threaten people, the Forestry Department seeks a court order to capture those elephants. With judicial approval, the troublesome elephants are tranquilized and placed inside wooden cages in isolated areas of the forest. In the ensuing months, Jenu Kuruba mahouts live in tents beside the elephant cage, using a combination of caring and coercion to force the elephant to bond with them.

Results: The Forest Department plan is a work in progress. The treatment of caged elephants, based in ancient traditions, can seem unsettling. Even after elephants are released to the mahouts, they still remain largely idle. In Anechowkur elephant camp, where the population of captive elephants grew from 14 to 34 elephants in two years, dust and dead trees stands as signs of extreme pressure on a limited landscape. However, dozens of dangerous elephants have been removed from conflicts with humans without killing the animals. The captive elephants, bonded with their mahouts, are now lifelong charges of the mahout and the Forestry Department, subject to government oversight. Some elephants work for the Forestry Department in tourism and patrol. All the captives are fed, watered and bathed daily, and many are allowed to browse on their own in the forest at night —although they may drag chains for the rest of their lives.


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Conclusion: This may not be a perfect solution to human-elephant conflicts, but it is based in respect for the lives of animals and an ancient culture of man. This research offers an early look at a new yet ancient model for handling elephant-human conflicts.

Disclosure of Interest: None Declared

Keywords: Elephant, Forest management, India, Mahout, tribal culture