Coconuts, Corn, and Carvings
The Conflict between
Elephants and People
The relationship between elephants and humans, which was earlier examined largely in the historical sociocultural context, can now be extended into the more contemporary ecological domain. Over the past 100,000 years or more, both elephants and humans have been important forces of transformation of the natural landscape, the elephant through its direct impact on the vegetation and early humans through the use of fire (which actually goes back nearly half a million years). For most of this period, the basic human-elephant relationship was that of predator and prey, with humans also falling victim to the elephant on occasion. The advent of agriculture, about 10,000 years ago, in the Old World introduced a new dimension to the interaction between elephants and people. Cultivated crops attracted the elephant's attention as sources of food, and elephant-human conflicts intensified over this resource and over space as permanent settlement and agriculture gradually spread through the elephant's habitat. At the same time, increased human use of the natural landscape for a variety of products such as wood, fruits, fodder for livestock, and so on had significant impact on the vegetation and consequently on the elephant populations. In addition, there was direct human impact on elephants—hunting for ivory and other products, such as hide and meat.
This two-way interaction—crop depredation and manslaughter by elephants and habitat transformation and elephant hunting by people—has to be placed within an analytical framework drawing on subjects as diverse as forag-