Human & Elephant Conflict

‘Wildlife Conservation is the practice of protecting wild plant and animal species and their habitats. …The goal of wildlife conservation is to ensure that nature will be around for future generations to enjoy and to recognise the importance of wildlife and wilderness for human and other species alike’. Conservationists aim to maintain the fine balance between eco systems. In this article I am going to talk about Africa’s elephant problem.

Why there an animal/human conflict?

The problem has arisen from human population increase and many people trying to save the elephant to the point where there are too many elephants in some areas. In Botswana, the elephant’s range has expanded dramatically because drought has caused them to wander further in search of water, meaning they come into contact with humans more often. The elephants are now destroying habitats and the damage is now threatening the survival of many other species. There is now limited space for humans and elephants to live side-by-side and people who share their lives with a five-ton animal who threatens their lives, destroys their crops and properties - live in fear. With lots of alternative control methods being tried, they still remain dangerous and culling still remains the most cost effective form of control.


Tourists may stay away if they know the culling is happening and activists shut down culling every time it happens, however this causes outrage from the local community towards tourists and activists, stating that people sit in the comfort of their own homes and lecture the locals about how to manage a species they don’t have and therefore don’t fully understand the toll elephants are having on their lives, including the eco system.

Culling of a whole family is the preferred option as this stops the animals grieving their family members. Sometimes the adults are culled and the youngsters are sold to zoos or in the past - circuses. The reason for this is because the young have not been taught how to forage and survive alone, because of this they can often become dangerous and aggressive to humans. Birth control can be used, but this does not control the current population, which is the problem. This can also be expensive while, culling and selling the tusks and juveniles can be quite lucrative to the farmer.


The illegal trade in ivory could be worth as much as $1 billion a year with up to 23,000 elephants are being poached each year, however the biggest threat elephants and other large animals face is the growing population of humans and the expansion of towns, cities, roads and farmland. Local people rely on farming which means elephants that graze on that land are a threat to business.

One wildlife range stated that the local village had lost £600,000 a year when the hunting ban was introduced. The villages had also seen increased crop and livestock damage due to overpopulation since the hunting ban so the locals are calling for the hunting ban to be lifted.

It is thought that sport hunting can counteract both habitat loss and poaching by giving elephants a legitimate monetary value. Elephant hunts can cost upwards of £10,000, which turns a nuisance into a valuable commodity. So if a landowner stands to make more of a profit from elephant hunts than he does with farming, then he is likely to let the animals remain wild.

However some believe that trophy hunting does not achieve an economic benefit to local communities, largely due to corruption or the profits lining the pockets of rich landowners and government officials. Local villages do benefit from selling trinkets and such like and are given the meat from the kill, which is often their best source of protein.

Ethic, morale, hunting and recreation

So after a five-year suspension, the government of Botswana has decided to lift the ban on elephant hunting and allow sport hunters to kill elephants; according to a statement issued by the Ministry of Environment, Natural Resource Conservation and Tourism. Now other Community leaders have called for the hunting ban to be lifted because the population has increased to excessive numbers and are damaging crops. It also found that the Department of Wildlife and National Parks was taking too long to intervene and control destructive elephants, which can destroy a seasons worth of crops in a single night.

Many conservationists are opposed to elephant hunting, both because of the decreasing number of elephants continent-wide and because of ethical concerns, however park rangers still believe that the only way to control the elephants is to cull them.

Tourists come to see elephants in the wild and this largely takes place in National Parks. Hunting is a profitable private system that takes place on private land where the elephants wouldn’t normally have any protection so the argument in favour of hunting is that it can help conserve elephant populations outside of wildlife parks.

While hunting elephants is now legal in Botswana, American sport hunters may not rush there because it is unlikely that they will be able to bring their trophies home as the Obama Administration banned animal trophy imports in 2014, this was due to what it saw as a mismanagement of a species listed as threatened under the Endangered Species Act.

What do zoos do?

Zoos have now found a new purpose and direction in breeding endangered animals, which provides a safety net when others fail. They have the facilities to breed animals and insects on site, creating self-sustaining populations to release back into the wild. However there is a worry that reintroducing animals that may be genetically different to the original populations may lead to problems surviving in nature.

Creating self-sustaining populations is much harder to do with larger animals in zoos, as the animals need to be separated to avoid interbreeding. The cost of moving animals around is high and replicating a natural habitat is almost impossible due to the range these animals normally travel.

Rescue centres in the animal’s native country are far more successful. Elephants, for example who have lost their families due to poaching are put together in a centre with the aim to be released back into the wild in groups. Although most stay their full life in a centre as they lack the survival skills needed to live in the wild. Male bull elephants can normally be released if they have obtained these skills as they spend most of their life alone but females and young will not integrate with other herds in the wild.

Zoos are now an important part of conservation and also provide a great tool for educating the public on site and provide funding for research in other countries. One ways zoos are helping abroad is teaching locals that these animals are worth more alive than dead and training farmers to deter the animals from destroying farmland instead of killing them the animals.

For example, people have found that elephants are scared of bees, so introducing a few bee hives around the farmland not only deters the elephants but also provides pollinators for the farmer’s crops and honey for the local community.

Elephants are among the most intelligent and social of all animals and there is no doubt that elephants are capable of empathy and emotion. Humans can relate to this, making them a popular animal to try to protect. They also look good and tourists like to admire from a distance. Outrage and ignorance wont help anyone, especially the elephants. 

29 April 2022
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