In Vietnam, farmers show willingness to work with the elephant in the room
- Human-wildlife conflict poses a threat to species such as the Asian elephant and to the livelihoods and well-being of the people who live near these animals.
- Researchers in Vietnam found that people living around the country’s Dong Nai Biosphere Reserve were broadly supportive of measures to support coexistence with elephants.
- Some members of the community – low-income, farmers, and those who have experienced conflict – have shown a greater willingness to support coexistence measures.
- The study identifies possible ways to promote community ecotourism-based coexistence, prevention and mitigation.
Resolving human-wildlife conflict is a complex issue and an urgent concern for a variety of endangered species, none more so than the Asian elephant (Eliphas Maximus). However, the people who live around the Dong Nai Biosphere Reserve in Vietnam want to promote coexistence with elephants, not conflict. This is according to a new study published in the journal Global environment and conservation He looks to understand society’s views on how to resolve the conflict between humans and elephants.
The researchers conducted choice-based questionnaires with residents of four villages – Phu Li, Ma Da, Thanh Son and Ta Lai – where human-elephant conflict is known to occur. In total, 440 households were surveyed and various methods of solving the problem were presented.
Estimates of wild elephant numbers in Vietnam vary, but there are believed to be around 100, distributed primarily along the borders with Cambodia and Laos. Habitat destruction and conflict between humans and wildlife are the current major threats facing the species. Dong Nai Biosphere Reserve covers 969,993 hectares (2.4 million acres) and is home to about 15 elephants, as well as other endangered species such as the Indochinese tiger (Panthera tigris Corbetti).
“In general, local people prefer strategies that seek to develop coexistence with elephants,” the study authors wrote. Crucially, community members also preferred alternatives to the current management system, which relies on patrols and traditional methods of keeping elephants off farms. The study suggests that elephants can quickly get used to such interventions, reducing their effectiveness.
Locals have demonstrated high levels of support for almost all of the alternative traits presented to them, which means they are willing to support [human-elephant conflict] Prevention and Mitigation Strategies in [Dong Nai Biosphere Reserve] And they want to see a change from the status quo,” the authors note.
Broadly, community members have favored alternatives such as designing a community program – ecotourism based on elephant monitoring, for example – to promote coexistence and support local livelihoods.
Other preferred solutions are framed around prevention and mitigation: the use of electric or “bio” fences, such as hives; A farmer’s community insurance scheme to cover crop damage; and land use planning to “reduce human-elephant interaction”.
For Jane Schaeffer, associate professor at the University of Maryland, the study underscores the importance of engaging those on the front line of the elephant conflict in designing appropriate and sustainable solutions to human-wildlife conflict.
“[W]Schafer, an environmental anthropologist who was not involved in the study, told Mongabay in an interview. “But you also have to make choices that will not only benefit one side of the problem, but should benefit both the human side and the wildlife side.
“It’s positive because it shows that people support this symbiosis of wildlife,” Schafer said. “They are interested in working towards a situation where they benefit from the presence of those elephants.”
The communities that live near the park mainly depend on agriculture for their livelihood. Not only were most community members willing to move toward coexistence rather than other measures, but many were also willing to devote their time to supporting such measures.
In particular, the researchers found that community members with lower educational levels and lower incomes were more willing to volunteer their time. Farmers, conservationists, and locals with experience in human-wildlife conflict were more willing to support and devote time to coexistence efforts. Community members were willing to spend between one and four days per month on conservation-related measures.
“This means that memorizing or [human-elephant conflict] Management programs may be more successful if they are directed toward people with these characteristics,” the study authors wrote.
Tarsh Thekaekara, a member of the Coexistence Consortium, said this desire to support coexistence is an interesting finding of the study. “Because that’s not the opinion of the majority…Most of the mitigation of the threat to wildlife and humans is about separating spaces more effectively.”
Although this predisposition is positive, said Thekaekara, who was not involved in the study, there is concern that it may be short-lived if conservation efforts are successful. Between January and May 2021, wild elephants from Dong Nai Biosphere Reserve were seen 90 times and caused property damage to 122 families, according to the study. “Things will change drastically with the increase in the number of elephants or with the increase in the number of elephants,” he said. It will therefore be important to reassess the views of community members if and when elephant numbers increase, he said, as the intensity of interactions may increase.
The study suggests that local authorities organize voluntary initiatives based on community ecotourism, conflict prevention, mitigation, and land use planning. Testing of these solutions will also be required to ensure that they are effective for people and elephants on both sides of the conflict equation.
The authors concluded that “these strategies are key to human-elephant coexistence.”
Banner picture: Members of four local communities from the Dong Nai Biosphere Reserve have shown a willingness to promote coexistence with elephants. Among a range of measures to address this issue, many favored “community natural resource management”, such as ecotourism activities. Rushen Image via Flickr (CC BY-SA 2.0).
Nguyen, F.F., Fan, T.T., Chun-Hong, L (2022). Integrating multiple aspects of human-elephant conflict management in Dong Nai Biosphere Reserve, Vietnam. Global environment and conservationAnd the 39 doi: 10.1016/j.gecco.2022.e02285
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