Washington, May 18 : A new WWF (World Wide Fund for Nature) study of conflict between humans and wild elephants in Africa and Asia has suggested that governments could save human lives and millions of dollars in crop and income losses for the rural poor through better consideration of the needs of wildlife.
According to a report in ENN (Environmental News Network), the study found the most serious conflict and harm to both human communities and elephants resulted from unplanned and unregulated development.
In Namibia, elephant related conflict costs communal farmers around 1 million US dollars a year, while in some Nepalese communities, it can be up to around a quarter of the household incomes of poor farming families.
The most significant consequence of the conflict was loss of human life, but other considerable, costs of human wildlife conflict go largely uncounted.
For instance, in Nepal, men in elephant-ravaged villages faced difficulties in marrying as women as scared to move to villages where elephants are a problem. In some areas, retaliatory killing of elephants was a major threat to already vulnerable elephant populations.
"Conflict with elephants causes death and suffering for many marginal poor communities living close to wildlife areas, and is often followed by the retaliatory killing of wild elephants," said Dr Susan Lieberman, WWF International's Species Programme Director.
"But we can go from lose-lose to win-win for both humans and wildlife, with the clearest gains coming from the implementation of effective land-use planning aimed at reducing the potential for conflict," she added.
In Nepal, the study compared communities with high levels of wild elephant damage with an area where the conflict costs were at half those levels, and found that the less damaged area had more forest cover in edge areas and less fragmented forests overall.
In Namibia, levels of crop damage were closely related to the distance of farms from wildlife areas, with farms immediately adjacent to unfenced wildlife habitat being "a drain on the national economy".
Human wildlife conflict in just one region of Namibia was estimated as causing annual losses of 700,000 US dollars to the national economy.
The report also found that an effective way to manage HWC was to give rights over wildlife to local communities, thus enabling local communities to benefit from neighbouring wildlife.
Economic analysis in Namibia demonstrated that these communities were able to generate more income from wildlife than they suffered from wildlife losses.
In Nepal, communities which received benefits from wildlife and wildlife habitat showed a much greater tolerance towards elephants than communities receiving no benefits.
Other important measures included innovative financial mechanisms, and field based techniques such as planting crops that are a deterrent, or less attractive to elephants.