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A study on elephant and human interactions in Kodagu, South India

By Malavika Hosahally Narayana

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Increasing human populations have resulted in the extensive conversion of natural forests and range lands into agricultural lands, resulting in an expansion of the interface between people and elephants across the elephant range countries of Asia and Africa. This interface describes the nature of two-way interactions between people and elephants, which can be positive and reverential or hostile and negative. Elephant crop-raiding, one of the most negative interactions for people at the interface, is not only the result of decreased food resources and space, but has also been attributed to a preference for cultivated crops and to damage caused during elephant movements between habitats. The aim of this thesis was an attempt to understand the use of coffee agroforestry areas by elephant populations in a South Indian district, Kodagu, and to assess the risks to elephants and people of coffee plantations. Geographically, located at a significant position in the Western Ghats, Kodagu district is a part of one of the largest wild Asian elephant ranges harbouring India’s largest elephant population. Kodagu has a unique topography and coffee agroforestry system in considered as the boon for conservation. This thesis is the first long term (one year) study on the elephant populations using coffee estates in Kodagu. Crop-raiding events across Kodagu and their intensity of occurrence were determined from the Forest Department compensation records. Virjapet taluk was one of the three administrative units of Kodagu with frequent incidences of crop-raiding, including elephant mortality and human deaths. High rates of crop-damage in Virajpet included both coffee and paddy rice produce as the land is conducive for the cultivation of both. To understand the use of coffee estates by elephants, coffee estates in Virjapet were directly and indirectly monitored for the presence of elephants using dung sampling (N=202), camera trapping, video and photo documentation, as well as sightings (N=408) and reports by local workers, in order to identify the individuals or groups of elephants frequenting these coffee estates. Lone male and all male groups used coffee estates most frequently and family herds ranging in group size from 2 to 10 were present mainly during the peak season of coffee ripening (post monsoon). Presence of large numbers of elephants, especially with large female groups, was associated with crop-damage during the months of December-January. As seasonal movements of elephants in Kodagu districts are still not known, it is unclear why the number of elephants in coffee estates post-monsoon increases when food availability should also be higher in forests. These large coffee estates were used as refuge areas by elephants during the day by all individuals and groups, and feeding on estates occurred during the night to early morning hours. Dung analysis and observations suggested that coffee estates were attractive for elephants due to the constant availability of water (for irrigation), green fodder, and cultivated fruit trees, especially jackfruit. Coffee plants were damaged both due to consumption (47% of dung samples in this study) and accidental damage during elephant movements within the estates. Although the dung sampling could not confirm whether coffee had become a novel food resource, the presence of large number of elephants during the coffee ripening season suggested that the potential for coffee berries to be added regularly to the diet in the future, with potential consequences for coffee invasion of native forests through dung seed dispersal. People working on large coffee estates were accustomed to the presence of elephants and were generally knowledgeable of the areas that elephants frequented, thus avoiding fatal encounters. However, safety of farmers and other people working on the estates remains a major concern, especially for large coffee estates owners. The constant interaction between elephants and people also led to more negative perceptions of elephants, and reduced the tolerance of elephants in the area. The unique topography of Kodagu as a mosaic of forests and farms challenges the number of possible mitigation methods to prevent negative encounters between people and elephant. The elephants of Kodagu may have adapted behaviourally to the presence of people, but long-term monitoring of the elephant population is important to understand their ecological and social adaptations to the various costs and benefits of using this agroforestry landscape. Suggestions for management of the elephant-human interface and mitigation of negative attitudes and actions were made, through a model that incorporates a multiple stakeholder (including elephants) action plan.


Mason N McLary

HABRI Central

Date 2014
Pages 413
Publisher University of Stirling
Location of Publication Stirling, Scotland
Department Natural Sciences, Psychology
Degree Philosophy
Language English
Cite this work

Researchers should cite this work as follows:

  1. Agriculture
  2. Animal roles
  3. Animals in culture
  4. Elephants
  5. Human-animal interactions
  6. India
  7. Mammals
  8. Nature
  9. Physical environment
  10. Social Environments