Nature may have final say on human elephant conflict

Most often, they strike under cover of darkness, ripping crops from the fields, toppling and smashing buildings and crushing anyone who gets in their way.

Sometimes their anger grows and they break ranks, targeting and murdering their human enemy on sight.

They are intelligent enough to overcome most any obstacle set to deter them, even cleverly filling dirt into deep ditches meant to stop them.

As combatants go, they're quite effective, terrifying, intimidating and leaving destruction in their wake.

And there's little doubt that the organized raids on human settlements and farms are downright war, ironically waged by the well-loved worldwide icon of peaceful giants, elephants.

Sure, god, gold and glory are strong motivators and have certainly spurred plenty of wars, but lacking interest in such things is no less reason to fight.

What's truly ironic, however, is that while not predators by nature, more than 100 people are killed annually in elephant strikes on two separate continents and hundreds more are injured or lose property.

Perhaps other animals, through their lack of fight, have created complacency in humans but then again, most animals lack the two things it takes to really make a difference — strength and unity.

Sure, prairie dogs have the numbers game mastered, but strength, not so much. So while they can certainly cause some damage, the sum total of their push-back is creating 50-plus-hole golf courses (everywhere) and chowing on crops.

Bears have the strength for sure, but to get the numbers they would have to actually like one another and that's never going to happen. But other than knocking over trash cans, harassing people and a few isolated attacks, they don't have much going for them.

Elephants, however, now there's a force to be reckoned with.

One elephant is hard to stop, but a herd of 20, angry and on a mission is the stuff of nightmares.

Sure, African and Asian elephant numbers are dwindling, while human numbers are more than doubling, but the few megaherbivores that remain are hard to ignore.

Size isn't their only advantage either. Treasured and protected, humans are forced to fight with less-than-lethal measures as their lives and livelihoods hang in the balance.

And it's pretty much a given, if the farmers plant it, they will come.

But there is something worse than a hungry elephant — a tipsy one.

Go figure, elephants love the bubbly and are known to seek out and hit the tap (OK, it's more like knock down walls) at village stills and breweries just for a taste.

Human elephant conflict (HEC) is a big enough problem that several groups have formed in the last 20 years or so to try and "mediate" recognizing that both sides have a valid perspective, and each has a heck of lot to lose if they can't work it out.

In the end, nature may settle the argument as farmers increasingly install fences featuring beehives which are disturbed if elephants trip a wire. Turns out the big fellows aren't all brawn and do, in fact, have some tender spots.

Guess sometimes the enemy of thine enemy is thy friend after all — according to Nature's rules, anyway.

Sharna Johnson is a writer who is always searching for ponies. You can reach her at: or on the web at:

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