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Elephants in the village: Causes and consequences of property damage in Asia and Africa

Abstract

In recent years, reports of elephants causing damage in rural villages by
destroying houses and foraging on stored food have been increasing, but little
is known about the determinants and magnitude of this damage. In this study,
we have examined the extent of property damage by elephants (Loxodonta africana
and Elephas maximus), in one African and two Asian study areas over a
six-year period. A total of 1,172 damaged constructions were observed on site,
involving detailed damage assessment by trained enumerators and standardized
interviews with witnesses. Depending on the study area, between 67.1 and
86.4% of damage events were attributed to single, individual elephants or pairs
of males. The majority of properties were damaged in search for food
(62.5–76.7% respectively). Property damage caused higher mean losses than
crop damage on farmland in all study areas. Results suggest that property damage
by elephants has been largely underestimated and needs to form a focus in
future human–elephant conflict research. We suggest a need to reduce the
attractiveness of villages by storing food in locked and safe places, away from
sleeping areas and to foster the development of elephant safe stores, appropriate
to the particular cultural background of the target area.