Drivers and consequences of human-elephant interactions in an agricultural landscape of rural Kenya
Type of DegreePhD Dissertation
Forestry and Wildlife Science
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Globally, interactions between people and wildlife are increasing due to habitat loss and conversion and the movement of people and wildlife into areas in which they were not previously present. Many of these interactions involve agricultural damage, which is especially problematic for resource limited communities. One species that causes extensive agricultural damage to rural farmers are African elephants (Loxodonta africana) which forage on cultivated crops, jeopardizing food security for humans and creating conservation concerns for elephants. While the ecological drivers of this human-elephant conflict are known, there remains a gap in our knowledge about how the farmers perceive and conceptualize the conflict that is necessary for advancing conservation. Thus, the goal of this dissertation is to develop a greater understanding of the impact of human-elephant interactions on rural farmers across social, ecological, economic, and cultural dimensions to better inform policy and decision makers in wildlife agencies mitigating these interactions. To address this goal, I developed key research questions: 1) how is the use and knowledge of deterrents by farmers and their behaviors and attitudes towards elephants related to demographic variables such as age, years farming, and exposure to deterrent information? 2) what are farmer attitudes and behaviors towards environmental threats to their livelihoods, and are there sociodemographic categories that influence farmer responses to such threats? and, 3) what are farmers’ mental models of elephant conflicts, including drivers of conflict that are underrepresented or unknown in the literature and potential indicators for evaluation of mitigation programs? To address these questions and the corresponding hypotheses, I conducted social surveys and participatory modeling sessions across 6 villages in the Greater Tsavo ecosystem of southeastern Kenyan. Across the villages, ~90% of respondents had never received information on mitigating crop raiding using fencing deterrents. The main reason for not implementing deterrents was lack of funding. Farmers were accepting of mitigation solutions for concerns such as climate change. However, 35% had never received information on solutions such as alternative crops. Likewise, ~50% of farmers would prefer to continue farming, even if alternative ways to earn income were available. Farmers positively viewed the benefits of wildlife, suggesting local community programs may be beneficial for improving attitudes. Mental models indicated several novel drivers of conflict such as road infrastructure and soil compaction and provided additional potential sociocultural indicators for evaluating mitigation programs. The models also showed that economic and environmental interactions were central variable types conserved across all villages and impacts to income levels and feeling of security were the most important variables indicated by farmers. The findings of this research provide valuable information for wildlife managers and policy makers that value stakeholder knowledge to aid in mitigating human-elephant interactions.