Updated: Mar 25, 2021
We’re shining a light on the problem of human-elephant conflict—with a surprisingly simple solution.
An elephantine problem.
In West Bengal, where the human population is 90 million people, wild elephants are constantly on the move through tea plantations and villages. Asian elephants are naturally wide-ranging species that can travel several hundred miles to search for food, water, and social and reproductive partners. Human developments have fragmented their forest habitats, leading to human-elephant conflict (HEC).
Though research shows that elephants actively try to avoid human-use areas, accidental encounters between humans and elephants inevitably occur. We estimate approximately 40 humans and around 10 elephants die every year in West Bengal as a result of HEC. These tragedies are not only unnecessary, but also give rise to animosity towards elephants, leading to retaliatory actions such as poisoning, electrocution, and poaching.
Incidents of HEC have only intensified across India during the COVID-19 outbreak. Between May and June 2020, during the COVID lock down, around 30 elephants were massacred over a 30-day period, poisoned, electrocuted or shot to death, mostly in northern India. Sixteen elephants were killed in Odisha alone. At least four of these elephants were found dead inside a tea plantation area in West Bengal.
A simple solution.
While filming an upcoming series on Asian elephants for National Geographic, VFAES Founder Sangita Iyer learned that accidental encounters between humans and elephants often occur at night in the tea plantation landscape. She also discovered a cost-effective solution: light. The simple presence of flashlights can help both humans and elephants become more aware of each other’s presence and therefore avoid confronting and harming each other.
Many villagers don’t have the resources to buy a flashlight, which is where we come in. We’re currently raising funds to purchase and distribute rechargeable flashlights to families living near the tea plantations surrounding the Gorumara forest of West Bengal. The flashlights, specifically selected for the terrain, cost approximately $5 and can help protect both humans and elephants.
The Asian elephant population has declined by nearly 50 percent over the past 75 years, now inhabiting less than five percent of its historic geographic range. There are fewer than 40,000 Asian elephants left on the entire planet, and 60% of them are in India. There is a dire need to protect the 27,300+ roaming the jungles there. That’s why VFAES is acting now, in partnership with Nature Mates India, who is working on the ground to develop a safe and haven for humans and non-humans to co-exist.
Okay—but what can I do?
It’s easy to despair when the threats faced by Asian elephants seem insurmountable. But you can turn your emotion into action—and be part of the solution. You can help us alleviate human-elephant conflict and save countless lives. You can help us foster a safe space for both species, and create a path forward toward peaceful co-existence. You can be catalyst for change in the lives of Asian elephants and the people who live alongside them.