Why Are Indian Elephants Killing So Many People?

Indian Elephants are killing people in an unprecedented and alarming manner. Why?

Villagers Running From An Elephant: Indian Elephants Killing People.
Villagers Running From An Elephant (Photo: YouTube)

The elephant is one animal you can’t help but notice while in India.

They are highly revered in Indian culture, history, and religion  and you’ll easily notice images and statues of them in many temples and palaces too.

But though these animals form an important part of Indian culture and beliefs, recent events point to a situation that can best be described as critical and out-of-hand. 

In recent times, Indian elephants have been implicated in the death of many people. In fact, statistics released just this month from India’s Environment Ministry show that the death toll is 1,144 people between April 2014 and May 2017.

That translates to at least one human fatality every day over the last three years!

What could be responsible for this number of deaths from an otherwise docile animal? Let’s find out.

Humans Versus Indian Elephants: The Root Of The Conflict

The human versus Indian elephants problem is directly linked to a number of factors:

  • High Human Population

India’s human population is growing and is likely to continue growing. Actually, India has the second largest population on Earth after China: about 1.3 billion people. But her landmass is not increasing, obviously.

As a result, there is an inevitable conflict with the wildlife as the animals are confined to ever-shrinking forests and grasslands. This conflict remains one of the biggest conservation challenges.

Humans need an increasing amount of space for activities like farming, road construction, housing developments, and so on. As they claim land for all these projects, they gradually encroach into the country’s traditional and historic wild spaces and animal sanctuaries.

Human development under normal circumstances is a sign of progress, but for those living very close to wildlife habitat, it could be very dangerous especially in the case of large, powerful animals like the elephant.

Eventually, competition for food, space, and other limited resources throws both parties together with terrible results.

  • Humans Getting In The Way

Another problem is elephants straying from the rest of their herd and wandering into human settlements. The animal may not intend killing anyone but people may get in its way and get badly hurt. Even killed. Especially if it’s stressed or disoriented.

Just this month (August 2017), a particular elephant killed 15 people in Bihar and  Jharkhand, eastern India, living the villagers in continuous fear. Wildlife officials say something must be done to end animal’s months-long rampage that has left villagers living in fear.

Local officials were of the opinion that the marauding elephant must have wandered from its herd and became lost. Thereafter, it strayed into nearby villages killing people in a months long rampage.

If it’s not brought under control, the authorities may have to shoot it as a last resort.

  • Crop-Raiding

Indian elephants are also fond of crop raiding. They may prefer to eat cultivated crops rather than wild vegetation most likely because of the better taste and higher nutritive content.

However, the affected farmers don’t accept this as they are more concerned with their livelihood. Therefore, they often poison the elephants in question.

At other times, the pachyderms trample people who physically try to stop them from eating the crops.

The damage elephants can cause in a farm may range from a few thousand dollars to millions of dollars depending on the size of the farm.

  • Revenge Killings

In very rare situations, Indian elephants attack and kill people for revenge.  Just like in the case of a rogue female elephant that went on rampage killing and eating the flesh of humans after her calf was killed in her presence.

Remember that elephants have very keen memory and they can recollect events very well.

And It’s Not Just Indian Elephants Killing People

The Indian Environment Ministry also revealed that tigers are killing people too. The human versus tigers has been on the increase since the 1970s. That period marked the beginning of India’s nationwide tiger conservation project aimed at carving out sanctuaries and national parks to protect big cats.

As a result, the tiger population gradually increased. Unfortunately, there hasn’t been a proportional increase in habitat. When they cross paths with people, the result is often a human fatality.

The human versus elephant conflict needs swift and effective solutions as the situation is affecting people and elephants alike. In particular, the issue of deforestation and habitat encroachment must be addressed urgently.

Human land-grabbing affects not just elephants but other animals like tigers, for instance. Of course, tigers are predators and they would be much less tolerant of human intrusion than elephants.

Only a quick and intelligent solution can make peace between all the parties concerned.

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