The Impact of the Human-Elephant Conflict Mitigation by the Governing Bodies on the Villagers' Perception of the Government and Conservation


         Human-wildlife conflict (HWC) is an issue of constant contention wherever the boundaries of human-developed communities and wilderness meet. One place greatly subject to this is East Africa, primarily the countries of Kenya and Tanzania. These are both rapidly growing nations in terms of population and economies, yet they still lack the infrastructure need for large-scale mediation of such conflict. In addition, a large portion of their relative land masses are protected areas for conservation use – around 11% in Kenya (World Bank, 2013) and over 31% in Tanzania (Brockington et al.

, 2008). This means the status of wildlife is often elevated above the people themselves, and causes communities and the government to have diverging goals. Furthermore, this ecoregion has one of the highest concentrations of large mammals still remaining in the world, whereas elsewhere they have been killed off, and it is designated as a biodiversity hotspot (Myers et al., 2000). Thus there are many stakeholders involved, not simply the people and the wildlife, but the government, conservation organizations, and tourists – making it difficult to parse out a solution.

Conflict emerges due to a variety of issues including, but not limited to: human injury or death, crop and property damage, loss of livestock, and disease transmission. Large herbivores such as elephants, hippopotamus, and buffalo are problematic due to the widespread destruction they can cause, with crop damage being the most prevalent form of conflict faced by locals (Lamarque et al., 2009). Elephants in fact are usually identified as the greatest threat to farmers, particularly because they can destroy entire fields in a single night raid (Parker et al.

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, 2007). In Kenya, elephant damage accounts for up to 90% of all wildlife-induced damage (Hoare and Mackie, 1993). Elephants also can injure or even kill people, either as of a result of aggression or fear when attacked, or even accidently. So called problems individuals have been identified as well, elephants which are particularly rogue and/or aggressive. More than 200 people have been killed in Kenya over the last seven years by elephants alone (WWF, 2007). Areas adjacent or near protected land are especially susceptible because of elephant territoriality and migration patterns, and so within these communities a hostile attitude towards elephants and conservation continues to mount (Kamweya, 2002).

         This conflict stems from overlapping of developments and a lack of management of the areas where elephants live and roam. One main problem is that elephants migrate, usually out of the national parks, on an annual basis. This is because during the wet season they migrate out of parks as food and water are abundant. In fact, one study in Kenya found that elephants spend half their time under protection, and that of their entire range, only around 47% is indeed protected (Hamilton et al., 2005). Compounded with increased expansion on the part of people and their settlements, interactions are inevitable. Elephants however are immense creatures, and therefore very difficult to deal with. This is confounded by the fact that most people lack extensive formal education in general, let alone the ecological knowledge needed to deal with elephant conflict.  

         The other side or players of the dispute are the national governments, as well as the national park authorities, and what they do in response to conflicts. For the most part people perceive these institutions as either ineffective, non-responsive, or even dedicated to other opposing interests. National parks are usually contacted by communities when certain problem elephants continue to reoccur in a neighborhood. However, game rangers often take a long time to respond, no thanks in part due to understaffed parks (Caro et al., 2009). Even after responding, returning an elephant to the confines of the park is difficult, and there is no guarantee that the individual will remain. Rangers will sometimes kill problem individuals, however this can cause behavioral disruptions for other members of the herd (Bradshaw et al., 2005) and usually does not prove effective in the longer term for reducing human-wildlife conflict (van Aarde et al., 1999).

         One solution that the government applies scantly is compensation plans – for crop damage and occasionally losses of human life to the family. However, this money is usually very inadequate and more often than not, is never given, despite repeated complaints by farmers (Lamarque et al., 2009. Overall however, the federal government certainly has a vested interest in maintaining elephant populations. In Kenya for example, ecotourism, usually meaning wildlife viewing, accounts for over 15% of the national GDP (Kenya Ministry of Tourism, 2011). Furthermore, NGOs, although good in their intentions, pressure these governments to increase conservation efforts and therefore spending, as well to reduce harm to wildlife and ecosystems (Smuts, 2010). This unfortunately can mean the government is at odds with the needs and desires of its own people.

Study Purpose

         This study is one which seeks to determine how the degree of human-elephant conflict (HEC) mitigation by top-down governing bodies impacts perception of the bodies themselves and conservation as a whole for those villagers directly experiencing loss from the conflict. Rural peoples in Kenya and Tanzania are subject to a number of problems arising from elephants entering their communities, including crop and property damage, and potential human injury and death. Often lacking the resources or knowledge to mitigate the problems themselves, villagers seek help from higher authorities. However, these groups also face similar logistic complications impeding their assistance or they may have interests elsewhere, as is arguable the case for the national government. The subsequent research questions are as follows:

  1. How do rural east African communities perceive top-down management of village-level elephant conflict?
  2. How does this in turn affect attitudes towards the government and national parks?
  3. What impact does this have on feelings about the tourism sector and conservation as a whole?

     I hypothesize that communities see the government as invested more in the well being of the tourism sector and parks as ineffective managers, and therefore view both as incongruous with their own welfare. Thus, tourism is viewed as a blight because these foreigners are taking away resources from them, and not contributory anything to thing. Finally, conservation of wildlife would be seen as a negative endeavor because wildlife only harms them.



         The participants in this study are community members of agricultural villages in Kenya and Tanzania. Other types of villages, dominated perhaps by other occupation types experience different forms of conflict, and their perception is mediated by additional factors, such as tourism. Selected villages are to be only those which have experienced HEC, preferable moderate to high, although not every individual person needs to have encountered an elephant. In order to ensure at least moderate levels of HEC, only villages along elephant migration routes will be sampled, as well as those within 10 km of a national park or reserve which is home to a sizeable elephant population.


         A conceptual model (Figure 1) framing the fundamental interactions of this overall system will be used to specify variables and shape the study questionnaire. The fundamental interaction is between the villagers and the elephants. The HEC is at the heart of this problem, however it is surrounded by a large and relatively complex system. Farmers are esspecially subject to the most difficulties in regards to elephants, as crop damage is the most prevalent outcome of HEC. They will therefore be considered the most essential to the survey pool, however all members of the community, regardless of occupation, will be included. This is important for assessing general conservation attitude, and to discover any differences which could arise in individuals based on demographics. This could be either due to differences in where the village is or due to the type of work done; some people may value wildlife because they benefit either directly or indirectly from tourism.

         The next interactions are the top-down management roles of the national government and the national parks. The government makes decisions through policy — what mechanisms are in place to compensate or assist villages subject to HEC. They also oversee national parks through bureaucratic means. The parks in turn, managed by rangers, are the people on the ground directly in charge of managing the wildlife. The speed and effectiveness by which rangers retrieve problem elephants is how they will be assessed, in terms of villager perception of these aspects. In addition, what, if any, profits from the parks directly or indirectly that the village gets will shape perceptions. The community members similarly assess the government through the effectiveness of their mediation policies, and the degree to which they believe the government cares about their interests. Lastly there is the role of tourism. Elephants and the parks in general generate immense revenue for the national government. In fact, the allure of elephant viewing alone is estimated to generate upwards of $30 million annually (Brown & Henry, 1989). This almost certainly influences how policies are developed, and the degree to which the government may be reluctant to reduce wildlife and elephant populations.


         First we begin with the predictor variables of the study, namely: frequency and intensity of HEC, efficacy of park ranger intervention, and ongoing national policies related to conservation, compensation, and related areas. Categorizing HEC is essentially a quantitative procedure. A number of national park projects, as well as independent research teams have taken up the task of monitoring elephants and their movement into neighboring villages (Hart & O'Connell, 2000). In addition, using certain variables, models for predicting crop damage, including that done by elephants, have been developed (Naughton-Trees, 1998). The main data however will come from residential reports. Elephants sightings, including number of individuals, frequency of occurrence, and time of occurrence is easily collectable. Furthermore, statistics regarding human death or injury due to elephants are easy to locate because such events are highly publicized in the local news. There may be some inaccuracies in verbal or written reports but supplemental background data should help corroborate and/or adjust figures to be modestly accurate.

Effectiveness of top-down management is slightly more difficult to quantify. In terms of ranger response, participants will be asked if they sought help from the park, and what assistance if any they received. Response time of the rangers will be a key factor, as well as reoccurrence of problem elephants after they are returned to the park. In addition, it may be useful to ask if the rangers gave them any advice on how to minimize elephant damage or interaction itself. Ecological communication is very important in illustrating the value of parks to average community members.

Response variables include those looking at perceptual attitudes. Perception of the parks in general will be assessed by asking simple questions about positive or negative attitudes towards them, as well as whether individuals see any profits or benefits from the parks and wildlife. Furthermore, asking about what role they feel they have in decision-making is important (Vodouhê et al., 2010). Stakeholder inclusion, mitigation of conflict, and incentives are all central components in shaping perception regarding conservation processes (Guthiga, 2008). This connects to overall beliefs about conservation as a whole, which is easy to ask and quantify, and will be very telling. Perception of the government will be assessed through questions on if they believe the government cares about their welfare, particularly in relation to the  welfare of wildlife and tourism.

Lastly I will look at profits from parks due to tourists, and specifically from elephant viewing, and subsequently where this money goes. This will be in conjunction with examining both reported and research policies regarding elephant management, conservation, and HEC of the national government. This will be qualitative.

Demographic variables including income, level of education, gender, size of family, occupation type, and tribe will also be collected and correlated with perceptions to see if any patterns emerge. Differences in attitude based on cultural values has in fact been seen (Gadd, 2005).


         Selection of study sites will be done using maps provided by the Elephant Conflict Working Group of the IUCN which works to map ongoing HEC in order to develop strategies for mitigations and provide technical advice to local governments on how to proceed. From these we will select a number of villages with moderate to high "raid frequency indexes" – a measure of problematic elephant activity based on parameters including raids per month and per growing season (Hoare, 2002). Demographics will be controlled as to be somewhat variable across these different villages, as well constrained to villages within 10 km of a park (Kyale et al., 2011) or in direct line of a known migration path.

Literature review and preliminary interviews will help inform in the development of the survey instrument. The survey will allow a further defining of demographics, and will address the independent variables by asking questions related to the respondents’ attitudes toward HEC and conservation.

         Two-man research teams will go through the villages and solicit all residents to take the survey. One will be a researcher who can explain any parts of the survey and the other will be a translator. The preliminary interviews will help determine what languages our translators will be required to know. The surveys will also be translated into the appropriate language beforehand. Verbal and written consent will be taken. Respondents who are unable to complete the survey due to time constraints will be asked if another time is better and those unwilling to participate completely will be noted. Small monetary compensation will be offered for completion of the study. This will help reduce response bias and coverage error by including those who “systematically refuse” to participate (Braverman, 1996).

Demographic information will be among the first questions on the survey, and includes the information previously discussed above. Following this will be closed-ended numerical and categorical questions assessing frequency and severity of HEC events. An example of a possible question is: "How often have you experienced crop damage as a result of elephants in the past year?" Answers would include "Everyday", "Every week", "Several times a month", etc. The remaining majority of the survey would be looking at perception, using a Likert response scale and statements that respondents will rate one a one-to-five scale of strongly agree or support to strongly disagree or oppose. An example statement could be: "National park rangers adequately respond to requests for help regarding HEC in a timely and effective manner" or "The national government is more interested in the welfare of wildlife compared to that of citizens." Surveys will conclude with questions regarding overall attitude towards conservation and wildlife. Participants will then be debriefed, and the purpose of the study shared with them.


         Quantitative data from the survey will be used for analysis. Multivariate analysis cross-referencing demographic information with various perceptual values will also be conducted. Linear mixed effect modeling will show the interactive and independent effects of each factor for determining ultimate perceptions. This will reveal what most shapes attitudes, and therefore gives a point at with which to educate or possibly revise policies.


         There are of course some limitations when carrying out this methodology, so these must be kept in mind. However, simply bringing attention to them is an important first step towards alleviating these issues.

As with many studies, the failure to include all individuals is problematic. This leads to response biases where the trait of the people which enables them to participate becomes dominant when trying to examine the data. Depending on their position in the household or occupation, some people may not have the time to complete the survey. This would need to be circumvented by asking about what times they can participate and then returning to administer the survey. People being unwilling to participate for other reasons could also be an issue. In my own experience, people are often unwilling to participate in these kinds of surveys because they are upset with conservation and the government response to HEC, and view this as either data which will not help them or to even be used against them. Transparency is key in order to sooth worries such as these, and possibly even compensation could be provided as a further tool for persuasion. This however also presents as risk of people answering incorrectly and rapidly, simply to receive the money. There may also be confounding factors influencing perceptions that I'm not assessing in the questionnaire.

Conclusions & Implications

      This study will hopefully illuminate how perception of human-wildlife conflict is effected by factors related to the conflict itself versus those dealing with management. Furthermore, it may show that perceptions of management by the parks and government diverges from the outcomes of actual policy. In that case, more direct communication is needed.

     Regardless, transparency and the inclusion of bottom-up management are both necessary. The people feel almost betrayed by their own government in the current regime, so it is essential to not only educate them on the benefits of conservation and wildlife, but also show understanding to the problems they face arising from ongoing conflict. These issues are happening and must be mediated if you wish to have a cohesive society which can work with the government to further conservation goals.

    This again comes back to bottom-up management, and the bringing in of integrated land management techniques for oversight. On the ground participation by community members in mediating their own problems as well as environmental causes will strengthen the relationship between all three entities of the conceptual model.


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The Impact of the Human-Elephant Conflict Mitigation by the Governing Bodies on the Villagers' Perception of the Government and Conservation. (2021, Oct 31). Retrieved from

The Impact of the Human-Elephant Conflict Mitigation by the Governing Bodies on the Villagers' Perception of the Government and Conservation
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