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  • Writer's pictureEPI Secretariat

Coexistence between Humanity and Elephants in Africa

Updated: Jun 3

Mapping the way forward at EPI and GWP’s HEC Workshop

EPI Foundation CEO, John Scanlon (left), and Keith Hansen, World Bank Country Director for Kenya, Rwanda, Somalia, and Uganda (right).

In Nairobi last week, government wildlife officials from more than 20 African countries came together to discuss an issue of growing concern; human wildlife conflict, with an emphasis on human elephant conflict (HEC). 

The workshop, organised by the Global Wildlife Program (GWP), which is funded by the Global Environment Facility and led by the World Bank, and the Elephant Protection Initiative Foundation (EPIF), united officials from an extraordinary range of countries across the continent, together with a small group of civil society organisations supporting this work in the field, and the newly appointed Chair of the EPI Leadership Council, Hon. Sharon Ikeazor

A GWP 2023 survey showed that human-wildlife conflict is a threat to conservation and development across the world. But it is in Africa that the highest percentage of people judge the problem to be both ‘severe’ and ‘increasing’; (73% and 79% respectively, according to respondents from almost 30 African countries). Moreover, respondents from elephant range states invariably identify elephants as the species of most concern in human-wildlife conflict.

Panel discussion with representatives from Mozambique, Tanzania, Gabon and Zambia (left to right).

The Nairobi event was attended by countries with some of the highest elephant populations on the continent- Botswana, Gabon, Kenya, Tanzania and Zambia- and others that have only a few hundred surviving elephants- Guinea, Mali and Nigeria, for example- as well as several countries that fall in-between these extremes.

So the scale of the challenge individual countries face from HEC varies greatly across the continent. In Botswana and Gabon, for example, HEC has emerged as a major national political issue which governments ignore at their peril, whereas in countries with smaller elephant populations, it is a more localised problem, albeit no less critical for those affected.

Picture from the human-elephant coexistence workshop break out sessions.

Despite this variety, certain themes emerged from the discussions in Nairobi. Rapid growth in human population, agriculture and infrastructure in Africa is causing encroachment into traditional wildlife habitats and corridors, leading to the severance of elephant migration routes. Add the impact of climate change, and conflict is an inevitable consequence. As Kumara Wakjira, Director General of the Ethiopian Wildlife Conservation Authority (EWCA) put it, ‘the human population is increasing, the competition is increasing, but our land cannot increase in area.’

The workshop discussed a number of fascinating and inventive mitigation measures. EPI partners Save The Elephants, have been pioneers in this area, and have developed an excellent tool-kit of local solutions to reduce conflict, presented at this workshop by Dr Lucy King. The toolkit first explains elephants, their behaviour and their response to certain situations before exploring actions and tools. The deterrence solutions range from bee-hives, which in some areas have led to an 80% decrease in conflict, to impenetrable concrete grain storage silos and jagged stone perimeter barriers, which are uncomfortable for elephants to tread on.

Picture from the human-elephant coexistence workshop break out sessions.

Elephants, as numerous participants testified, are adept at finding their way around physical boundaries. So what about financial compensation for communities whose crops and other property are destroyed, or, in the worst case, lose their loved ones in conflict with elephants? In Kenya, the government received claims of more than $4 million in 2021-2022 from victims of human-wildlife conflict. But many victims say the system is cumbersome, and that payments are insufficient. The Nairobi workshop heard from the pioneers of an innovative pilot project solution, where the government’s Kenya Wildlife Services (KWS) works with the private insurance industry to raise sufficient revenue to address claims.

Dr Patrick Omondi, the DG of Kenya’s Wildlife Research and Training Institute urged participants to look at the big picture. Fences, beekeeping and financial compensation, he argued, can mitigate the impact of HEC, but they can’t prevent it. The only long term solution, he said, is the rigorous application of spatial and land use planning. As long as elephant migration corridors are used for agriculture, conflict will inevitably follow. Ultimately, Dr Omondi said, communities need to see the economic benefit of living alongside elephants, just as they see the benefits from livestock or crops.

The EPIF was proud to co-facilitate this workshop together with its longstanding colleagues from the World Bank’s Global Wildlife Programme. The EPIF Vision 2030 is of an Africa where elephants and people live in ‘harmonious coexistence…with herds able to travel across their range. Thereby protecting a diverse range of wild animals and plants, combating climate change, and supporting local livelihoods.’

 All the EPI and GWP workshop participants from 22 African countries in Nairobi, Kenya.

We were delighted to help bring together and connect these passionate and knowledgeable African conservation leaders, who are working directly with communities and policy makers across the continent to address these challenges. The result was a highly engaging, informative and productive exchange of ideas, expertise and solutions, which will lead to the better design and implementation of measures to support those on the frontline. 


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