Conservation and Sustainable Use of Wildlife

Population and Distribution of African Elephants

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African Elephants and Local Residents (Conflicts between Humans and Elephants)

Here is an article by Dr. Yukino Iwai (The Hirayama Ikuo Memorial Volunteer Center (WAVOC), Waseda University) who is working in Tanzania.

The People Who Live Under the Threats
of African Elephants
written by Dr. Yukino Iwai

Human-Elephant Conflict

Perhaps most people in Japan think that African elephants are endangered and must be protected. However, there are areas in Africa where elephants have increased in number after successful protection and are now intruding villages, threatening the livelihoods of the villagers.

Serengeti National Park in the United Republic of Tanzania is one reserve successful in the protection of elephants, thanks to the dedication of the Tanzanian government and local residents. Although the elephant population in Serengeti National Park was down to 500 in 1989, this number steadily increased after international elephant trade was banned by CITES. As of 2014, the elephant population in this area was estimated to be around 6,000*1.

With this population growth, however, damages caused by elephants are becoming problematic. In farming villages neighboring Serengeti National Park, elephants are raiding fields to eat crops, and in some cases, they have killed people. For example, in Serengeti District, a district adjacent to Serengeti National Park, 30 villages (with 90,000 residents in total) are suffering from such crop damage, and in 2019, seven people were killed by elephants, setting a record-high death toll. Once the crops they had been growing for six months are eaten up by elephants over a single night, the villagers fall into poverty and securing food for survival becomes a task they can barely manage. Fulfillment of basic needs becomes less than satisfactory, and people would have to struggle to secure food for survival, even if that means they would have to cut costs for education or healthcare, resulting in significantly lower QOL. Furthermore, as fatal elephant attacks are taking place within the villages, the locals feel unsafe even just to walk around their residence and are constantly fearing elephant attacks. The number of such incidents has increased in many districts adjacent to wildlife reserves in Tanzania since the 2000s.

Measures Taken by Villagers: Elephant Patrol Teams

In Misseke, one of the villages afflicted by elephants, the number of days per year in which elephant attacks took place reached 134 (according to a study conducted by the author in 2018). It is therefore not possible for the locals to make a living by just waiting for external help. Thus, farmers have formed elephant patrol teams in order to defend their farmland and lives by themselves. Since elephants come out to raid the fields when the villagers are asleep at night, these teams are on the watch for elephants approaching the village all night on a nightly basis. No matter if it rains, gets windy or cold, there is no night off. When an elephant herd is spotted, around 20 people circle it to scare it off back to the reserve, using handmade firecrackers that make explosive sounds similar to the sound of a gun. (The farmers cannot use real guns because even if they fire just to warn the elephants, they would be considered as poachers and be arrested.)

Through these efforts, Misseke has been able to significantly reduce the scale of damage caused by elephants. These efforts, however, are not sustainable, as they create huge burdens for the farmers. Such burdens include injuries sustained when running from elephants, loss of physical strength and declining health caused by having to stay up all night continuously, costs of equipment such as firecrackers and flashlights, and the loss of opportunities to be engaged in other economic activities. The farmers need drastic measures that could remove such burdens that they are having to endure in order to scare elephants off.

Elephants invading the village

Elephant Patrol Teams

Strategic Elephant Population Control

To reduce damage caused by wildlife, comprehensive implementation of the following three measures is said to be required: (i) measures to prevent wild animals from coming near farmland; (ii) management of the habitats of the animals causing problems; and (iii) population control of these animals*2. Wildlife management policies at the national level would be necessary to implement (ii) and (iii). However, the National Human-Wildlife Conflict Management Strategy 2020-2024 which covers elephants, has just been formulated by the Tanzanian government in 2020. At the moment, only (i) is being implemented by the locals as a stopgap measure.

Measures to control wildlife in national parks should be conducted by national governments. At Kruger National Park, Republic of South Africa, where damage caused by elephants is successfully being controlled, the South African government installed electric fences to prevent wild animals from coming near farmland [(i)]. However, it has been reported that vegetation degradation in Kruger National Park is progressing because of the continuous elephant population increase. If this continues, the maintenance of elephant-friendly habitats [(ii)] may no longer be possible*3. At some point, population control [(iii)] will likely become necessary. While elephant protection efforts by the Tanzanian government have shown amazing results, in order to create a society where humans and wildlife can coexist, comprehensive implementation of the aforementioned three measures to address the damages caused by elephants behind successful protection is necessary.

*1 Tanzania Wildlife Research Institute (TAWIRI), Population Status of Elephant in Tanzania 2014, TAWIRI Aerial Survey Report, 2015.

*2 Noriyuki Teramoto, Manual for Solving Problems Caused by Wildlife: Conservation and Community Building for Forests and Remote Rural Communities, Kokon Shoin, 2018. (Japanese)

*3 South African National Parks (SANParks), Elephant Management Plan Kruger National Park 2013-2022, 2012. [PDF 1.9MB]

This article is presented as one of the opinions of experts.