The Assam Haathi Project
Elephant people conflict project which aims to benefit both the people and the elephants
Northeast India provides one of the last remaining strongholds for the Asian Elephant, but this area also has among the highest levels of human-elephant conflict in the world. In Assam, 11 million of its 31 million people live in poverty, the majority of which rely on subsistence agriculture. Elephants emerge from forests to raid crops and break into houses to access grain stores. Serious injuries and deaths of both people and elephants are not uncommon. This poses a great dilemma for people of a culture that traditionally holds elephants in great respect. Retaliatory actions against elephants occur, and are an extreme act of desperation.
Since 2005, our Assam Haathi Project (www.assamhaathiproject.org) has tackled the issue through a community-based mitigation and livelihoods approach, coupled with scientific research. With support from Defra’s Darwin Initiative (2007-2012) we developed highly effective methods to keep elephants and people safely apart. We have assisted 20 villages directly and 65 indirectly, reducing crop-raiding and property damage in the best scenarios by up to 78% and 95% respectively, as well as drastically reducing the number of deaths, and engaged 23 communities and around 600 people in new forms of sustainable livelihoods, and protected 1400 households from elephants.
With focused, organized effort and good institutional support, human-elephant conflict situations can be resolved and managed and we propose that a community-based approach in parallel with applied research to understand site-specific dynamics is a good example of best practice, transferrable to other parts of the world with similar challenges.