Note from Dr. Thomas Grant: I asked my freshman writing students at ABAC to watch the documentary and write about some of the issues presented there. This is one of the student essays.
By Kristi Guerrero
Abraham Baldwin Agricultural College
Human population is ever increasing. As humans grow in numbers, the amount of land needed to serve our population increases as well. This need for more space presents problems for certain wildlife. While we feed our need for more space, wildlife is in danger of losing its habitat and thus the territorial battle ensues. Such is the problem in India. Because India’s economy is highly dependent on agriculture, the increasing need for agricultural land presents a conflict with elephants trying to inhabit the land as well (Acharya, Paudel, Neupane, & Kohl, 2016).
An example of this territorial battle between human and animal occurs on coffee plantations in India. As I saw in “Elephants in the Coffee,” elephants present a problem in coffee plantations. Elephants go to areas where there is food and water which are the basic necessities they need to survive. Elephants feed off of the coffee bean plants decreasing the profit for farmers. Not only are the crops being eaten but destroyed as well (Gubbi, Swaminath, Poornesha, Bhat, & Raghunath, 2014). “Over 58 percent of the rural households depend on agriculture as their principal means of livelihood” (FRPT, 2016).
India is a big player in the coffee industry signing contracts with major coffee industries in America such as Starbucks (Grant, 2016). The Kodagu district in India accounts for two percent of the world’s coffee (Bal, Nath, Nanaya, Kushalappa, & Garcia, 2011). There is also a high density of elephants residing here. Due to the high population of elephants and the growing cultivation of coffee plantations, the human-animal conflict grows (Acharya, Paudel, Neupane, & Kohl, 2016). The more land that is used for the cultivation of coffee, the less land elephants have to inhabit (Bal, Nath, Nanaya, Kushalappa, & Garcia, 2011). This presents a problem of containment of the elephants and crop destruction to the farmers.
Elephants are not a tolerated species when it comes to the destruction of crops. Crop damage varied depending on the stage of growth of the crop. Driving away habitual crop raiders cannot be easily done by using traditional methods such as crackers, flashlights, or making loud noise. If cultivation patterns are changed in attempts to drive the elephants away, elephants will adapt their diets according to the changes (Rohini, Aravindan, Vinayan, Ashokkumar, & Anoop Das, 2016). Once again, the battle for territory is pushed by the elephants. Containment of these mammals is challenged by the elephants themselves.
Farmers have tried everything from digging trenches to firing guns to scare away elephants from their grounds (Grant, 2016). Several measures have been taken to improve the co-existence between human and wildlife (Acharya, Paudel, Neupane, & Kohl, 2016). Physical barriers were installed by the government to evaluate if the presence of those barriers lowered the human-animal conflict for territory (Gubbi, Swaminath, Poornesha, Bhat, & Raghunath, 2014). Many of those efforts have failed. Elephants not only hurt farmers through crop damage, but property damage as well. Property damage for elephant damage prevention includes solar fences, barbed wire fences, well slab, and surveillance shelters among other measures (Rohini, Aravindan, Vinayan, Ashokkumar, & Anoop Das, 2016). The battle for territory certainly has not come without a price.
The protection of elephants by government has not helped ease the ongoing territorial battle. Government’s heavy protection over the elephants has made it difficult for the people to not only protect their land but also themselves (Grant, 2016). In a period of five years from 2010-2014, elephants had the highest percentage of human killings in comparison to other wildlife in India. Elephants came in at 30 percent in regards to human killings (Acharya, Paudel, Neupane, & Kohl, 2016). Instead of providing the people protection from elephants, government compensates them for damages caused by elephants (Gubbi, Swaminath, Poornesha, Bhat, & Raghunath, 2014). Protected areas of elephants receive higher funding by the government to place protective barriers, conflict mitigation, and habitat improvement activities among other contingencies for the protection of elephants more willingly than for the protection of the people (Gubbi, Swaminath, Poornesha, Bhat, & Raghunath, 2014). In Professor Grant’s documentary, the importance of the preservation of elephants was clearly displayed as the villagers were not able to protect themselves by shooting the elephant (Grant, 2016). The villagers' only form of protection was government efforts of tranquilizing the elephant and taming it (Grant, 2016).
The territorial battle for land still stands to this day between human and animal. As I saw in Professor Grant’s documentary, there are still many kinks left to resolve when it comes to the protection of human versus animal (Grant, 2016). Government’s protection over elephants creates conflict with the people (Acharya, Paudel, Neupane, & Kohl, 2016). The people have very little protection from the elephants as all protection goes towards the conservation of the elephants (Gubbi, Swaminath, Poornesha, Bhat, & Raghunath, 2014). Farmers experience property losses as well (Rohini, Aravindan, Vinayan, Ashokkumar, & Anoop Das, 2016). In efforts to contain elephant damages to crops, farmers invest in devices to keep elephants off their land only to have elephants destroy those devices creating property damages for farmers (Rohini, Aravindan, Vinayan, Ashokkumar, & Anoop Das, 2016).Elephants not only present an economic fault but also a human frailty (Acharya, Paudel, Neupane, & Kohl, 2016). In a battle for land, elephants leave human casualties (Acharya, Paudel, Neupane, & Kohl, 2016). Elephants hurt the economy too (Bal, Nath, Nanaya, Kushalappa, & Garcia, 2011). Elephants are accountable for damage to agricultural lands (Bal, Nath, Nanaya, Kushalappa, & Garcia, 2011). This hurts the economy of India considerably due to the fact that over half of their economy depends on agricultural profits (FRPT, 2016). The battle for territory will be one that is not short lived for farmers in India.
Acharya, K. P., Paudel, P. K., Neupane, P. R., & Köhl, M. (2016). Human-Wildlife Conflicts in Nepal: Patterns of Human Fatalities and Injuries Caused by Large Mammals. Plos ONE, 11(9), 1-18. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0161717
Bal, P., Nath, C. D., Nanaya, K. M., Kushalappa, C. G., & Garcia, C. (2011). Elephants also like coffee: trends and drivers of human-elephant conflicts in coffee agroforestry landscapes of Kodagu, Western Ghats, India. Environmental Management, 47(5).
Davidar, P., Rosset, C., Mammen, P. C., Puyravaud, J. P., Srivastava, R., & Wright, B. (2015). Mortality records (1979-2011) shed light on threats to asian elephants elephas maximus linnaeus, 1758 (mammalia: proboscidea: elephantidae) in nilgiris, southern india. Journal Of Threatened Taxa, 7(8).
Grant, T.A. (Director). (2016). Elephants in the Coffee [Motion Picture].
Gubbi, S., Swaminath, M., Poornesha, H., Bhat, R., & Raghunath, R. (2014). An elephantine challenge: human-elephant conflict distribution in the largest Asian elephant population, southern India. Biodiversity & Conservation, 23(3), 633-647.
Indian Agriculture Industry - Update. (2016). FRPT Research - Industry Updates, 1-13.
Rohini, C. K., Aravindan, T., Vinayan, P. A., Ashokkumar, M., & Anoop Das, K. S. (2016). An assessment of human-elephant conflict and associated ecological and demographic factors in Nilambur, western Ghats of Kerala, southern India. Journal Of Threatened Taxa, 8(7), 8970-8976. doi:10.11609/jott.25188.8.131.5270-8976
Dr. Thomas Grant
Professor of Journalism at Abraham Baldwin Agricultural College