Human-Elephant Conflict Addressed in Kerala, India

A study of captive Asian Elephants has led to successful measures to reduce human-elephant conflict, especially during festival time. CEC member Dr. T.P. Sethumadhavan describes the study and strategy.

Festival in Kerala, India, where human-elephant conflict is being addressed

In the era of Conservation, where IUCN is giving more emphasis to conservation of Asian Elephants, this story on mitigation of human-elephant conflict among captive Asian Elephants in India will be an eye opener to all CEC members. The measures to reduce this human-elephant conflict were very successful with the help of strategic extension programmes.

Among range countries, human-elephant conflict is an important area of concern in India. Among captive Asian elephants human-elephant conflict is acquiring momentum in the country. Recent findings revealed that 342 human lives have been lost during the last three decades in Kerala, India, due to human-elephant conflict; more than 94 percent of victims are mahouts (a person who drives an elephant).

This study was conducted during January to May 2010 in the southern-most state of India; Thrissur in Kerala state, which occupies only 1.13 percent geographic area of the country. Human-elephant interaction is more frequent in the state where tuskers are used for festivals and processions. Kerala has more than 700 captive Asian Elephants. As part of the study, 240 captive Asian Elephants were randomly selected to find out the cause and to formulate measures to reduce the human-elephant conflict.

Different variables were indentified, e.g. feeding, management, season, age, musth incidence, behavior, transportation, breeding and diseases. Through a schedule of interviews, data were collected from stakeholders involved in elephant welfare, such as veterinarians, mahouts, elephant owners, festival organizers, policy makers and elephant lovers. Focus group discussions were also conducted. Major interventions affecting above variables were identified and a SWOT analysis was done. Based on the findings, management protocols were developed to reduce the increasing incidence of human-elephant conflict.

Based on the above findings, a management system was formulated to reduce the stress after taking in to account the major variables identified. It includes best feeding and management practices, a musth forecasting system, scientific disease control system and best management practices during transport and festivals.

The formulated scientific management system, which was administered during 2007, were modified and applied on 240 captive Asian elephants during the festival season January to May 2010:

  • During festive season, when the elephants are compelled to stand more than 6 hours, measures were taken to frequently give succulent vegetables and fruits. They were allowed to walk in shady places. Wet gunny bags were placed underneath their feet.
  • A 12- hour rest period was made compulsory for elephants before moving to the next festival.
  • A series of mahout training programmes and awareness seminars were conducted to create awareness on scientific management practices among mahouts, public and students.
  • Interventions in transportation norms were followed. Elephants are allowed to walk only 20 km per day during morning and evening hours. Beyond 20 km trucks were made compulsory as per the captive elephant management rule prevalent in the state.
  • Protocols for control of elephants and the role of mahouts were well defined and implemented.

Based on the SWOT analysis, the following of remedial measures was identified in breeding, feeding, management, season, age, musth incidence, musth forecasting, mahout training, behavior, over work, cruelty, transportation and disease control in tune with captive elephant management rule 2003.

Musth forecasting system was formulated based on previous incidences of musth. The study findings revealed that best captive elephant management practices could reduce 92 percent of human-elephant conflict in the state. In order to reduce stress, variables like scientific feeding and management, disease control and management during musth period need proper attention. There is a positive correlation noticed between season and incidences of musth. Musth forecasting system can help to reduce human-elephant conflict by taking effective control measures before the premusth period.

For more information, contact Dr.T.P.Sethumadhavan, Assistant Director & Veterinary Scientist, Animal Husbandry Department, Government of Kerala, India, at

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