Page last updated at 12:51 GMT, Wednesday, 14 January 2009

Where should the elephants go?

Amirtharaj Christy Williams

Poisoned elephant
Elephants cannot win a battle with humans

There are no winners when elephants and humans compete for the same resources, says Christy Williams. But, he argues, intelligent buying by western consumers, and informed policies from governments in areas where elephants occur, could reduce the problem.

As night fell over the southern islands, I worked fast to fix a collar around an elephant's neck.

She had just sent me on an undignified flight through the air with a swish of her trunk - and this when she had been almost fully sedated.

To avoid a second hit, I crouched under the belly of a big camp tusker standing alongside her. An experienced veteran vital to our task of tranquillising and collaring wild elephants, this large male remained unruffled.

House trampled by elephants
The brunt of the conflict is borne by local communities and the beleaguered giants who stand no chance against the destructive power of humans

But I was still disconcerted and nervous with the angry trumpeting of her family herd from just beyond the surrounding bushes.

This lot was being kept at bay by another camp tusker and his mahout who used mock charges and shouting to dissuade the distressed elephants.

By the time we finished, it was pitch black. Exhausted, we hit the sack.

That was November 2006.

We were in an illegal coffee plantation inside the Bukit Barisan Selatan (BBS) National Park in Sumatra, Indonesia. My WWF colleagues and Indonesian government partners had summoned me because villagers were threatening to kill the small "problem" herd.

The BBS herd had already suffered at the hands of humans, and their number was down from more than 30 in the year 2000 to six by June 2006.

Our solution was to create an early-warning system involving a Global Positioning System (GPS) collar fixed on one of the elephants in this herd.

The GPS location data from the transmitter on the collar - beamed via satellite to a website - enabled us to follow the herd and warn villagers ahead of the approaching elephants.

Tough choices

In the more than 15 years I have been involved in elephant conservation and research, the storyline of the Asian elephant is depressingly similar.

With fire in her eyes, she said that if people like me were so interested in conserving elephants, we should take the elephants with us and tie them in our backyards

The country, the people, the language or the retribution are different, but the cause for elephant-human conflict remains the same - humans displacing elephants from their natural habitat.

Twelve years ago, I trekked to a remote village in the Garo Hills in north-east India to investigate the death of a two-month old human infant, killed by an elephant.

A bull elephant had entered the village - a cluster of bamboo huts on stilts - in search of food.

During the commotion a couple rushed out in panic and left their sleeping infant inside their tiny hut. Before they could turn back, the elephant had pushed the hut down, crushing the baby to death.

It broke my heart to see the mother's raw pain and her tired and resigned eyes as she narrated the incident.

She asked why I was there and I told her I was doing a survey of elephants and elephant-human conflict.

With a sudden fire in her eyes, she said that if people like me were so interested in conserving elephants, we should take the elephants with us and tie them in our backyards.

Elephant and calf
Elephants can be seen differently in communities living close by

That comment stayed in my mind; but the significance of the words came to haunt me when I was doing my PhD fieldwork on elephants in Rajaji National Park four years later.

In 1998, I lived in a small field camp, and elephants would sometimes come to our camp and sniff about for the pinches of cooking salt we would strategically leave for them under a tree.

One night, a herd of pachyderms smashed my kitchen, took a bag of salt and spread it around the field camp.

For the next two months, elephants visited every night looking for salt in the soil around the camp.

It was a nightmarish experience. And I was living in a solid concrete building!

Imagine the psychological impact of elephant raids on villagers living in fragile mud and bamboo huts.

Being at the receiving end certainly helped me have a deeper understanding of what this conflict really meant.

Understanding the threats

In India, Nepal and Bangladesh, humans encroach on elephant habitats, which are further fragmented by roads, canals, dams, mines.

Across South East Asia, forest loss has been largely fuelled by legal (and illegal) conversion of elephant habitat to oil palm and other plantation crops including acacia, rubber, coffee and tea.

All these factors combine to worsen human-animal conflicts, and it is vital that any solutions we seek are based on our understanding of the behaviour of these intelligent animals.

Findings of studies across India, Sri Lanka and Malaysia reveal some general patterns that might help us to avoid the worst conflicts.

Generally, elephants need about 200 sq km of forest home range.

Makeshift shelter
Villagers in Assam built this makeshift tree shelter because of elephants

A female elephant will almost always live and die inside the home range where she was born. Males disperse from their family groups when about 10 years and eventually find their own home range.

In large forest areas where all the elephant home ranges are contained within forested habitat, there is very little conflict.

As more humans move into forested habitats, elephant-human conflicts are born.

The encroachers, lacking technical help and access to effective and humane mitigation methods, retaliate by throwing burning tyres, shooting at the beasts with sharpened nails, even by laying out foods laced with killer pesticides.

In 2001, more than 15 elephants were killed in one incident near the Nameri Tiger Reserve when elephants ate pumpkins laced with Dimecron, a pesticide that is banned in Assam, but easily available nonetheless.

But more wholesale damage is caused by sanctioned habitat clearing at the hands of short-sighted government officials who encourage large areas to be set aside for monoculture cash-crop plantations or infrastructural and development projects.

Elephants are virtually led to the slaughter by the very governments mandated to protect them.

In India, we have seen this with the collusion of corrupt officials and academics writing fake Environmental Impact Assessments (EIAs) designed to serve the interest of a small group of politicians, industrialists or contractors who profit from the untruths.

"Mitigation" measures most often ignore elephant behaviour or ecology, since the teams that conduct the EIAs lack the expertise to deal with such delicate issues.

The brunt of the resulting conflict is borne by local communities and the beleaguered giants who stand no chance against the destructive power of humans.

No winners

Two months ago, I received word that the herd in BBS whose matriarch we had collared had killed a human mother and child in an illegal settlement within the park.

Today, our receipts can be almost as important as our vote

They were the only two who had not moved from the settlement despite being warned by our field team.

A few days later, I was sent images of two elephants that were killed in retaliation.

As an elephant biologist, I was filled with utter despair for the fate of the pachyderms.

As a father of two young children, I was wracked by the human tragedy that had unfolded, and remembered my own time in that dark forest building, as marauding elephants milled around me.

A dreadful realisation struck me - there are no winners when elephants and humans clash. Everyone loses.

What can we do?

Today, our receipts can be almost as important as our vote.

To ensure elephant habitat isn't needlessly destroyed, buy Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) certified timber and certified coffee; and if you aren't sure whether a product has been sustainably sourced or not, then ask.

Amirtharaj Christy Williams is a biologist with WWF's Asian elephant and rhino programme

The Green Room is a series of opinion articles on environmental topics running weekly on the BBC News website

Do you agree with Christy Williams? Are the governments of elephant range states largely to blame for human-elephant conflicts? Can selective purchasing help mitigate the problem? Do westerners have an unrealistically romanticised view of the animals?

Nice article. I believe from what I have seen that conservation cannot be a priority for the poor and starving. Unfortunatley the areas where elephants are most populus seem to be right in the regions where the poor and starving are trying to eek out a living. There are various programmes in namibia to encourage rural africans to promote and help sustain the conservation effort in these such areas. A proportion of the cash generated from tourism operations and trophy hunting is supposed to be distributed amongst members of the community or to help fund projects for the upliftment of the peoples there. The managment of these operations is not taken care of by the people who set them up but passed on to local, previously disadvantaged individuals. Show money to a man who has nothing and what will he try to do?? Share it??When the local population see tourism operators and visiting conservation volunteers arriving in brand new 4x4's with hi tech cellphones and laptops they are bound to want. Conservation is big business and big business leads to big money. Big money leads to an urge to spend it and spending money leads to an increase in populations and an increased demand on natural resources. Therein lies the problem. The best way to conserve an area's natural state is to leave it alone. The expansion of our world population is having a irreversible effect on other lifeforms. Period. There is little that we can do to stop this as people come before animals. All the research in the world will not stop an elephant going where it pleases in an unfenced environment or a lion killing a cow. Nor will it stop a farmer from farming the most fertile areas of land. We are at the top of the food chain and out urge to reproduce will never be surpressed. It is our natural instinct to suceed and overcome weaker lifeforms. Mulitinational companies ploughing cash into conservation have little impact as the population expands. All businesses utilise natural resources, even the conservation experts running around rural africa in V8 Landcruisers. Unless a huge epidemic wipes out around 50pc of the human race the battle to conserve wild places and lifeforms contained within them will be an uphill one.
Dan Stephens, Caprivi region, namibia

Elephants and humans have very different roles in the world. As long as we are consumers and they are maintainers of the forest we have no right to be there. But they cannot secede from US, we must from their real-world, non-artificial home.
Alex harter, CA, US

A really Heart touching article. What people don't realize is that it is a Lose-Lose situation for both the Animals as well as Humans. Encroaching into animal habitat illegally is the first mistake that human does. Like Fuel added to the fire is the corrupt Government officals, politicians and the law full of Loopholes. I dare say that Environment Protection agencies which fund development projects themselves do not completely understand a project before sanctioning one. A statement was once aired in the movie "matrix" where in the hero-counterpart says that Human race is similar to a Virus. What a virus does is colonize the host completely destroy it and then move onto other active hosts. That sounds true.
Udayabhanu Prakash V, Hyderabad, India

Protecting the remaining habitats of elephants and other endangered species is the most critical issue. Biodiversity loss should be interlinked with climate change. Money derived from carbon trading should be wisely spent to protect rainforests, then forests are more profitable to maintain rather than destroy. But the developed world needs to come to the party. Governments seem to be focused purely on emission targets with mainly empty rhetoric.
Tony, Christchurch, New Zealand

Very nice article Mr.Amirtharaj
Roopa, sydney

Put all those people on birth control & give the elephants a chance to survive & have space to live in!1
B.M, Oakmont, America

It is sad that the root of the problem is corruption amoung Goverment Officials . I think the best method is first attack the cause of the problem , by bringing in division in all Governments which will Oversight Problems. And the second solution is to create awareness amoung villagers on the need of wild animals for our environment. The third is also have a mechanism which will give warning to the villagers .
Joseph George, East Tambaram , India

Religion is the real culprit. Religion encouarges people not to use contraceptions, and make as many children as possible. Planet is already over-crowded, and approx. 100000 are adding up each passing day. If the population is not controlled immediately and reduced drastically in the longer term, there is no hope for any Species, let alone Elephants.
Naeem Butt, Stockholm, Sweden

Thomas of Cuxton-upon-Medway says that the suggestion that we buy only certified timber and coffee is like saying "let's all get together to starve the peasant humans out of the elephants' area. This will not work, because it is an inhumane approach." But at the same time doesn't such a boycott create and expand the market for products from areas currently unable to compete with the illegal commodities?
Greg, Robinson, KS

This article puts forward a question - who is stepping into whose territory. Unless we learn to respect other species and learn to love this earth we are passing on only a bleak earth to the next generation. It is high time that we all understand the detrimental effect our lifestyle has on this earth and work together globally to change this course we are on.
Prajakti Joshi Shrestha, Chicago, USA

Wonderful ,balanced article.But frankly why do we expect the poor to sacrifice to save a animal,they too have right to enjoy and aspire for better quality of life..we as rich and middle class people refuse to even give up a car and expect them to live dangerously? lets be clear,people come first...and we will all be in position to write all this stuff when we give up something for the planet,rather than pointificate our the net
sid thorat, Chandigarh ,India

The articule is a very poignant description of the conflicts and trade offs. I am surprised that there are no comments from Kenya - where the proximity of protected forests and national parks to densely populated high potential agricultural lands has led to continuous human-elephant conflict. There are many lessons to be drawn for wildlife and elephant management, particularly the need for "elephant corridors" so that males can migates through their 'traditional routes' without endangering farmers and their families. it is up to humans to manage the process to avoid conflict
marian, rome, italy

At this rate of man's encroachment into elephant territory, it is going to be "E was for Elephant".
Adekoya Aweda, Lagos /Nigeria

I am very fajmiliar with the tensions that prevail when human population encroach wild-life habitat. The article us exceptional in the way it defines the issue; there is, however, an understated fact: that Environmental Impact Reviews are too often fradulently slanted by corrupt academicians and Govt, agencies to favor political power. That is at the heart of why the system fails. Corruption is a toxuc, as much as any chemical ever sprayed on agricultural crop. Most of the countries that are host to the remnant Asian Elephant populations are also rather well known for corrupt public systems. That kills elephants, as readily as does a shot-gun. These practioces should be made very public by organizations such as WWF. That may shame these corrupt actors into some cahnge in their loyalties. as human populations explode, all wild life will decline, principally because pf habitat loss. Ironically, at the very end of the road, we will be the losers! Sadly, we may have already reached that "tipping point" in the case of the Asian Elephant and the Tiger.
Abhi Buch, San Diego, CA .,USA

I had worked in the rainforests of Ponmudi Hills, in the Western Ghats, in collaboration with the Department of Forests, Government of Kerala, from 1991-1996. One of the reasons why I changed fields was the helplessness that I felt in being unable to protect the forests. During a visit to the same forest range last month (Dec 2008), I was shocked to notice the human encroachment deep inside the forests. Atleast in the forest ranges of Kerala, India, where I worked, and possibly everywhere in the world too, sustainable development of the forests does not work because humans are far too greedy; in the words of Mahatma Gandhi "the earth is big enough for everyone's need, but not big enough for everyone's greed". Yes, the governments of the elephant range states are to blame! The only way to protect both the humans and elephants (and other species) is to put very high voltage electric fences around the existing forests and prevent the humans from entering the domain of the animals. However, since the humans have votes and the animals do not, no government will support this move.
Sam Stephen, London, UK

Forget the elephants! They are a lost cause and the sooner we admit it, the better. Its all about too many people putting too much stress on what natural environment there is left. Only by seriously reducing human population will elephants have any chance, be it in Asia or Africa. Otherwise, be content to look at them in zoos.
rudolf, Wellington, New Zealand

The plight of elephants is the atypical example of the ongoing unsustainable development the world is going through, this example being on biodiversity threat by humans. Coming from a region where wild elephants exist, and having been involved in human-elephant conflict mitigation and management work previously, I totally empathise. We cannot deny the poor, landless from trying to find ways to subsist. These groups bear the brunt of conflicts with elephants. The only real solution I see to this problem is a change in the entire global system so that no more unsustainable development occurs. But that won't happen tomorrow, do we just watch helplessly then? That is why supporting certified products, whether timber, coffee or palm oil provides some measure of changing the way things operate at the moment. It may have its weaknesses and does not clearly demonstrate an immediate and direct impact on the ground, but goes a long way to supporting the work of those like Christy Williams in preventing the elephant from slipping into extinction.
Andrew Ng, Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia

i feel sorry for the people and elephants in this country.
bill passmore, bellaire ohio usa

This problem is created my men and its our responsibility to solve it. If an intruder comes to our house we will be forced to react. The elephants are doing the same thing. I'm sure they would prefer to be left alone. But due to their habitat destruction they have to come out in search for food and water. It is the government's responsibility to make laws to protect them and arrest corrupt government officials. Also governments should make education programs create awareness in the local communities about the benefits of wildlife and nature. The public should know that the animals are beautify creation of nature and not just a beast. They should be make aware that if we lose our forests then it is us who will suffer in the end. The Government should create buffer zones around forests so as to minimise human and animal conflict.
Raghu Shrestha, Lalitpur, Nepal

I think you are doing a fantastic job! Please keep it up. I think is appauling that elephants should be killed without even trying to solve problems that arise when people expand their living habitats. Also, I think governments should be pressured to enforce that there are no illegal crops in national parks. Astrid Ruqsapram Bangkok Member of FAE - Friends of the Asian Elephant
Astrid Ruqsapram, Bangkok, Thailand

Its all about money and greed. Maybe we should follow the instincts of the animals - "Take only what is needed to survive.
Mike, colorado springs, colorado, USA

It is a fact habitat for elephants and many other species of animals are shrinking, especially in third world countries where the population increases is putting pressure on the existing land. For example a country like Bengladesh with a small land mass is required to support a huge population that exceeds 100 million. At the same time the Second largest (? or first) country like Canada support a population of 33 million people and strictly control the immigration to protect it's huge land mass for it's own people. This is just an example; it is not an equitable situation. A lot of it is created by the colonialism of the past 300 or so years. A lot of people in the western world like to preach about the protection of habitat for elephants and other animals, ignoring the fact that a lot of such problems are created by their own selfishness to protect their own vast countries from migration by other peoples in the world. Equitable distribution of land must be brought to the equation before intelligent discussion to solve the the problem of conflict between humans and animal species.
Daid, edmonton, Alberta,Canada

I know that my ignorance is showing, but I'd like to know "why the salt, do elephants eat salt in vast quantities?"
guy coles, new york, ny, usa

I agree with Mrs. McDonough's point of the necessity to contain our populations growth. We humans are procreating at such a rapid pace we are exhausting our planet in more ways we wish to open our eyes to. There will be many more animal vs. human conflicts, and of course we will win with the aggressive and unforgiving retaliation efforts that seem so natural to us homo sapiens. Where will this bring us? To a world where people will tell legends of glorious creatures long ago such as the elephant. These will end up being passing thoughts just like other extinct species such as the dodo bird. The thought really makes me sad. People have to give up on this pipe dream of pumping out 2 or 3 children and raising a family, living a happy, blissfully ignorant life. We have to be proactive. I think this is such an important thing for my own generation to comprehend, inching closer to the years where marriage and children come to a front.
Sarah, Montreal, Canada

Perhaps the US President-elect Barrack Obama, who seems to be genuinely interested in protecting our Planet Earth can take a closer look at the problem of species extinction because the main culprits in the Ivory trade are the Americans. According to the Humane Society of United States, "Poaching and Illegal Trade Remain Significant Threats Poaching and illegal trade continue to threaten the survival of elephants in both Africa and Asia. Between January 2000 and July 2002, at least 1,063 African and 39 Asian elephants were reported to have been poached for their ivory, while 54,828 ivory pieces, 3099 ivory tusks (equal to 1,550 dead elephants), and 6.2 tons of raw ivory (equal to about 794 dead elephants) were seized. From October 2004 to April 2007, more than 41 metric tones of ivory have been seized, an amount that roughly translates into 20,000 elephants poached annually to supply illegal ivory markets. Illegal ivory trade and elephant poaching are at their highest levels since the 1989 ban was established. Each year, The Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) allows the export of ivory tusks as trophies from up to 960 African elephants from eight countries. The United States is the major importer of elephant trophies; hunters have imported the tusks of more than 400 elephants annually in recent years." The insatiable hunger for material wealth in the West has destroyed many of our natural resources including some of the species, which are on the brink of extinction. Wouldn't NOW be a good time to take action? The media MUST play a greater role in educating the public. We need more of the BBC's "Planet Earth" and "Planet Blue" and CNN's "Planet in Peril" series. The more we educate the public and the government, the more chances we have of helping them understand the impact of our actions on our future generations. Can you imagine your children and grand children living in a concrete jungle which has been created by human race after destroying all of our natural habitats? Many a majestic animals like the elephants, tigers and polar bears are on the endangered list. So how do we turn the tide? EDUCATE EDUCATE EDUCATE which will hopefully propel people to take action!
Sangita Iyer, Toronto, Canada

great article (although I might have changed some of the language being used!). but it hits the nail on the head, if somewhat obliquely. there are a number of things to do: i) ensure that habitat is effectively protected for elephants - this is a land-use issue and decision (and a big demand in a corrupt world: it asks for thinking about the number of elephants we humans want to remain with at the end of time - and hence the amount of land that we are willing to put aside for them; it asks that that land is effectively protected - i.e., it remains intact with no settlers; it needs sustainable finance to ensure it remains intact ad inifintum; it needs to be ecologically meaningful and sufficient); and ii) (and this is something we plan to try out in mozambique, funding dependent) the human tragedy that is associated with this is often a question of livelihoods (when crops are destroyed) or tragedy (when conflict results in human deaths). humans have always reacted to potential disasters by taking out insurance - all communities across the globe where disasters occur do this in their own way. we can build on these local models using the insurance models that have been developed in monetary economies - which encourage people to take actions that reduce the risk. with elephants, reducing risk means putting up effective barriers, including fences, using chilli peppers, noise, oil & chilli ropes, etc). if those people who take these precautions have lower 'premiums' and/or higher pay-outs (or compensation), then there is a greater incentive for everyone in the community to take such precautions. this, effectively, maintains the boundary between the humans and the elephants within the elephants' enclaves. however, given the politics of elephant range states (which is very familiar to me as accurately described herein), these are tall orders and i fear that the number of elephants that we end up with (in small, effectively managed islands in a sea of people) will be far fewer than we have today. elephants have the profound bad luck to have evolved almost the precise same habitat choice as a wildly successful species with enormous land-transformational powers: humans!
stuart, maputo, mozambique

It seems to me that my North American brothers & sisters forget about the buffalo we keep as a pet-species in Yellowstone. Every winter, they venture out of the park boundaries to search for food to survive. Every summer, 1000 or more buffalo who haven't returned to the park are culled, because they carry a disease that is fatal to beef cattle. All this is caused by people who know better. Western people telling Africans that they know better. Africans killing elephants, because they know better.
R B, San Diego, CA, USA

We are responsible for that. We dispossess elephants from their territory. People who enter in their habitat (National Parks) are low educated and are interested just in profits.
Lukas Hocz, Trossingen

My mother have been attacked by a wild elephant around 30years ago. It grab her on the leg with its trunk and flung her around like a ragdoll, but she survived and recovered. The elephant didnt survive, it was shot at close range by dozens. Now even at the zoo she doesnt want to get near them. Before she told me about this i have been in close contact with elephants, taking pictures, riding them, feeding bananas. They seem like gentle giants. From a previous BBC article i read that elephants swinging they trunks and retracing their steps repeatedly in their zoo enclosure is a sign of stress, this did happen too when we (a group of children) fed the elephant with bananas behind-the-scenes.
J. Wong, Singapore Singapore

If they have so many elephants in Zimbabwe that the army is eating them, maybe a trade is in order.
cream, NY

"To ensure elephant habitat isn't needlessly destroyed, buy Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) certified timber and certified coffee; and if you aren't sure whether a product has been sustainably sourced or not, then ask." In other words, let's all get together to starve the peasant humans out of the elephants' area. This will not work, because it is an inhumane approach.
Thomas Goodey, Cuxton-upon-Medway, England

Lack of education is a root of all problems. If we could only educate the poor they would be able to make better decisions concerning reproduction. The Earth would be a much healthier place with a smaller more educated population. Conservation is so important, but we can not have conservation without education. Animals don't have a choice in this matter. It's sad the human race cannot respect each other, so how can we have hope of more respect towards animals? Maybe there is hope with future generations, as long as there is a strong movement towards education.
Stephanie, RI, USA

as someone who has seen at first hand the despair of a mother who's child is trampled to death I realised controlled hunting and conservation one paying for the other is the way of employing the local people to look after elephants
nigel darlington , wales

A deeper question seems to be to ask why are we humans as a species moving into areas where elephants and other "wild" animals have already made their home. If there is not enough sustenance for humans within our currently "civilized" boundaries, then either the hell with the wild creatures and environments OR shall we make a more conscious effort to contain our population (have fewer offspring) and consume less of the planet. This seems a very very long term solution and one that may have the most benefit for mother earth, at least in my opinion. No easy solutions here--watching where we spend our money has positive implications but I feel is short-sighted. My husband and I have an Idaho cabin amidst the wilderness that now has reintroduced wolves, an occasional bear, moose, cougars, elk, and other wild animals that could be a threat to human life. I will never let my grandson go off on his own without realizing there is a risk to him in doing so. Car accidents anywhere are certainly a more realistic threat and we live with that fact every day.
Susanne McDonough, San Jose, California, U.S.A.

The problem has always been that people feel they are superior to the animals and so the conflicts begin. We need to understand that animals were here first we are taking their territory as our own and displacing them. Even when we set aside areas for the animals they do not understand boundaries. So when they go into areas that have always been theirs and are inprinted in their minds by previous heads of the herds, we can not change what they know to be their territory. Just because we want the land, we keep taking land using it until it is usable no more and then taking the rich fertile areas from the animals for our own. If we don't change our ways we will be extinct not the animals. We over breed, over use and throw away what we have no use of any longer. People need to learn to respect nature, because the way we are going now it will not be habitable for humans or animals.
Joyce McElfresh, USA

Elephants, , butterflies, trees, the natural resources that are at an impasse of existence because of humans. People have a right to live, elephants have a right to exist as well. Yes, there should be action taken by the countries away from the conflict to minimize the impact they have on the populations of people and elephants. Who are the more altruistic species, though...humans or elephants? I'm afraid the elephants are done for, unfortunately.
Mark Peterson, Dassel, Minnesota, USA

I'm Indonesian working in Singapore. I'll just make my comment short and simple. The only way to make it work is to work with the highest level of people in the government. Enlighten them about the importance to preserve the heritage of nature. Especially in corrupted countries, unless you get hold of the people with power, you'll ended up with no solution. Another important part is education. Educate the young while they are still pure and open minded.
Mario Santoso, Singapore, Singapore

What a superb article. Not only the villagers and elephants, but your own plight itself is quite a story.
Chris Walker, Bangkok

A very interesting article and one that does pull thoughts in both directions. As an animal lover and someone who has been able to view elephants in the wild at close quarters I feel a certain affinity to the creatures who are a precious asset to the planet. Only ongoing education and investment in this area and a program of targeted lobbying of the relevant governmental departments in the areas above will have any effect. This must be both focused and continous to have the desired effect. Oversees government must see the elephants as a way of attracting tourism and as a direct result income into their counties and this must be a starting point. Initiatives such as selective purchasing would have a long term benefit however I am not sure how long it would take to get this message over. Finally in answer to the question regarding Westerners, I would say the statement is true as we do not have to live with elephants in our environment but articles such as the one above serve as the perfect solution to the overall picture.
mark hodgson, London

We (humans) are all responsible for the problem,consumers in the west who do not check to see what the products we purchase Cost in terms of where the product comes from, the moral and or ethical values of the companys we purchase those same products from. Corrupt officials are NOT just the domain of the third world, they exist in the west as well, be they corporate or government. So yes I agree completely. I admit that it is much easier to "feel" for an animal that from some reports seems to be self aware and understand the concept of death, the elephant. What we have to realise is that all plants, animals, insects and birds have a place in a stable eco-system. If we cannot manage and protect the "cuddly" ones, is there hope for the rest? The real hope, in my opinion, is that we have to act check out those corporations before you buy ... a small example a company which produces cleaning products advertises itself as green because it has installed wind and menthane powered electrical plants .. what it forgets to tell you is the very products it sells are some of the worst enviromental culprets. This is off topic but it emphasises the fact that we, consumers, have to do our research where it comes to the products we purchase. If there are no purchasers for illegal products or products produced illegally there would be no PROFIT in it for the perpretators. Educate yourselves people! See what you can do where you live. If you have extra money send it there are many worthwhile causes, however if you cannot and there are many of us, use your purchasing power at home to let the corporations and governments you mean business. If you find out that the product you have purchased comes from an area where illegal production is rampant, find another producer who does not. Tell your friends tell your families, tell anyone who will listen. This is the only type of action the average person can take. We cannot hope to influence foreign governments. We can write to our own, we can write to companies and tell them we will not use their products and why that is. If only one out of every ten people would do this you would be amazed at the results.
Annamarie Janssen, Devon, Alberta Canada

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