Deforestation and Human-Elephant conflict directly co-related

Deforestation is correlated with incidents of human-elephant conflict(HEC) says a newly published study. Land-use change provoke incidents of conflict and expose both human and animal population to hazards. The authors opine that this can be the consequence of elephant dispersal from protected areas, but it can also be the consequence of elephant attachment to their shrinking range.

A study conducted in the Western Ghats links deforestation with an increase in human-elephant conflict.

The study area included Bhadra Tiger Reserve in the north and the Nilgiri Biosphere Reserve in the south and spanned over 47,000 km2 of the Deccan states across Karnataka, Tamil Nadu and Kerala. This particular area hosts one of the highest densities and abundance of wild Asian elephants in the world.

Using maps from the 1960s and satellite imagery, the authors compared past forest cover to the recent agricultural mosaics for a period of 44 years and found a severe loss of elephant habitat. Data shows that between the years 1960 and 2004 a total of 4,023 km2 of forests and 2,738 km2 of scrub amounting to 6,761 km2 (1,67,0679 acres) of elephant habitat have been lost to agriculture, infrastructure development, and other activities. The lost elephant habitat is nearly equivalent to ten times the current size of Bengaluru city.

In the same region, the agricultural mosaic increased by 7,123 km2 of which 88% was outside protected areas (6,266 km2) while 12% (857 km2) was inside protected areas which was largely in the state of Kerala and in Gudalur region of Tamil Nadu. The annual deforestation rate was estimated at 0.85% per year.

       Elephant Crop Raid

This deforestation severed the elephant habitat link between Nilgiri Biosphere Reserve and the Bhadra Tiger Reserve – most notably in Hassan and Kodagu districts. The deforestation in the two districts mostly occurred in areas that existed in private lands.

The authors further used records of conflict incidences and correlated the incidents with the intensity of deforestation. The results showed that human-elephant conflict incidents occurred at locations where deforestation rate was high and such incidents did not occur at random. The districts of Kodagu and Hassan witness some of the highest human-elephant conflict incidences in the country. A total of 64 people have died in Kodagu and Hassan due to elephant conflict in the last 10 years. Elephants have continued to survive in this deforested area possibly relying only in small refugia of forests thus leading to a situation where isolated elephant populations are struggling with the land transformation. Elephants come in frequent contact with humans in areas where their habitat vanishes which is a recipe for disaster.


The study emphasizes the importance of proactively reducing deforestation, loss, and fragmentation of elephant habitats to reduce the loss of human lives and livelihoods, and at the same time negative attitudes towards wildlife. Development can be achieved with conservation for the benefit of humans and wildlife. But requires an optimization of the landscape organization by zoning of activities, in other words, by allowing the right economic activity at the right place. The study also highlights the importance of protected areas in reducing deforestation, as the highest loss of elephant habitats was outside protected areas.

The study also found that the number of incidences was highest within four-kilometer of the protected area boundary. Hence the idea of zonation is particularly appropriate in this case: better land use planning, awareness and adequate activities within this zone can help reduce impact for both people and animals.

Cover Image Credits : Sandeep Mall


The paper, published in the journal Tropical Conservation Science, was conducted by Jean-Philippe Puyravaud, Sanjay Gubbi, H.C. Poornesha, and Priya Davidar.

Jean-Philippe Puyravaud :Jean-Philippe Puyravaud was trained as an ecologist and served as a scientist at the French Institute, Pondicherry. He is now the director of the Sigur Nature Trust (Sigur, Tamil Nadu) and specializes in landscape ecology and conservation biology.

Sanjay Gubbi :Sanjay Gubbi works on wildlife conservation and research in Karnataka. He is also interested in conservation policies, human-wildlife conflict and is keen on bringing in on-ground changes.

H.C. Poornesha :Poornesha H.C. works on conservation of wildlife habitats in the Western Ghats through geographical information systems analysis and conservation planning.

Priya Davidar :Dr. Priya Davidar retired as a Professor in Ecology and Environmental Sciences, Pondicherry University. She received her Ph.D. from Bombay University after which she carried out postdoctoral research in the United States at the Smithsonian Institution and Harvard University. She resides in the Nilgiris and is active in the field of conservation advocacy and research.






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