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There will be conflict - agricultural landscapes are prime, rather than marginal, habitats for Asian elephants

de la Torre, J. A., Wong, E. P., Lechner, A. M., Zulaikha, N., Zawawi, A., Abdul Patah, P., Saaban, S., Goossens, B. ORCID: and Campos-Arceiz, A. 2021. There will be conflict - agricultural landscapes are prime, rather than marginal, habitats for Asian elephants. Animal Conservation 24 (5) , pp. 720-732. 10.1111/acv.12668

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Misconceptions about species’ ecological preferences compromise conservation efforts. Whenever people and elephants share landscapes, human–elephant conflicts (HEC) occur in the form of crop raiding, elephant attacks on people and retaliatory actions from people on elephants. HEC is considered the main threat to the endangered Asian elephant Elephas maximus. Much of HEC mitigation in Asia is based on rescuing elephants from conflict areas and returning them to nature, for example, by means of ‘problem elephant’ translocation. Here, we used two independent and extensive datasets comprising elephant GPS telemetry and HEC incident reports to assess the relationship between elephant habitat preferences and the occurrence of HEC at a broad spatial scale in Peninsular Malaysia. Specifically, we assessed (a) the habitat suitability of agricultural landscapes where HEC incidents occur and (b) sexual differences in habitat preferences with implications for HEC mitigation and elephant conservation. We found strong differences in habitat use between females and males and that the locations of HEC incidents were areas of very high habitat suitability for elephants, especially for females. HEC reports suggest that in Peninsular Malaysia females are involved in more crop damage conflicts than males, whereas males are more prone to direct encounters with people. Our results show that human‐dominated landscapes are prime elephant habitat, and not merely marginal areas that elephants use in the absence of other options. The high ecological overlap between elephants and people means that conflict will continue to happen when both species share landscapes. HEC mitigation strategies, therefore, cannot be based on elephant removal (e.g. translocation) and need to be holistic approaches that integrate both ecological and human social dimensions to promote tolerated human–elephant coexistence.

Item Type: Article
Date Type: Publication
Status: Published
Schools: Biosciences
Sustainable Places Research Institute (PLACES)
Publisher: Wiley
ISSN: 1367-9430
Date of First Compliant Deposit: 1 March 2021
Date of Acceptance: 18 December 2020
Last Modified: 06 Nov 2023 18:48

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