Large-scale forest encroachment in Assam, India, has led to increasing levels of human–elephant conflict. Conflict mitigation is a priority for the survival of Asian elephants Elephas maximus throughout Asia. We analysed a 3-year dataset of elephant occurrence and related instances of human–elephant conflict, from two sites in Assam, and explored the relationships between the various effects of elephants on human communities and factors influencing the spatial and temporal occurrence of these effects (proximity to water, refuge areas and villages, and human and crop density). The landscapes at both study sites have been transformed by forest loss, with large areas converted to agriculture. Remaining forest patches, which are mostly small, disconnected and degraded, as well as tea plantations, provide refuge areas for elephants as they move through the region. We found that crop depredation and property damage caused by elephants showed well-defined seasonal trends. They also showed a clear diurnal pattern, mostly occurring between 18.00 and 22.00. Small communities within 700 m of a refuge were most affected. In the management of human–elephant conflict in Assam we need to consider the refuge patches used by elephants as they move through the region, the peripheries of which are likely to be conflict hotspots. Small villages on the edges of refuges should be a priority for conflict mitigation assistance, with strategies taking into account seasonal and diurnal variation in elephant behaviour, as well as the socio-economic and cultural composition of communities.