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Habitat loss and human–elephant conflict in Assam, India: does a critical threshold exist?

  • Laura Chartier (a1), Alexandra Zimmermann (a2) and Richard J. Ladle (a1)

Abstract

Human–elephant conflict in India, driven by habitat loss and an expanding human population, is a complex challenge for biodiversity conservation. Determining if, how and why this conflict has changed over time will be an important step towards managing landscapes where people and elephants Elephas maximus coexist. This study combines social surveys and remote sensing data to analyse patterns in human–elephant conflict and land-use change over time. The reported experience of conflict increased dramatically in the early 1980s, with 85% of those surveyed indicating that conflict began after 1980. The expansion of conflict showed a significant southward trend and was associated with forest cover dropping below 30–40%. Based on our results we propose that a critical habitat threshold for human–elephant conflict may exist at 30–40% forest cover. Below this level, conflict expanded across the landscape. The existence of such a deforestation threshold may have important implications for landscape management in elephant range states that seek to avoid or mitigate further conflict. Maintenance of remaining forest areas, reforestation, and the creation of habitat corridors are strategies that could help prevent further expansion of conflict.

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Copyright

Corresponding author

School of Geography and the Environment, Oxford University, South Parks Road, Oxford, OX1 3PS, UK. E-mail laura.chartier@gmail.com

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