Elephants are attacking humans as climate change drives them to the abyss

Elephants are known for being gentle giants. But climate change is beginning to take its toll as attacks on humans increase as global temperatures rise.

It is believed that 500 people are killed by elephants every year in India, mostly during raids on crops. In 2021, India Today reported that 3,310 people had died from elephant attacks in the past 7 years. With such incidents, retaliation by the villagers also increases. In 2001, 60 elephants were found dead across north-east India and Sumatra as crop poisoning became a popular form of retaliation.

In April 2022 the Indian Express reported that elephants trampled six people, including a young girl, in Dhamtari district of India.

In parts of Africa, elephants are increasingly entering farmland in search of food and water, particularly during harvest season. In 2018, a herd of 28 elephants destroyed 18 homesteads and fences in the Namibian village of Otjorute. Another notable incident in 2021 saw a group of elephants invade farms in Ngaremara, northern Kenya. Farmers threatened to kill the elephants before animal rights groups intervened.

Elephants are known for their gentle nature, but they can become aggressive if they feel harassed, vulnerable, or threatened. And climate change seems to be creating these conditions more and more frequently.

elephant
A stock photo shows an Asian elephant. Asian elephants are increasingly migrating onto farmland, destroying crops.
Chinnasorn Pangcharoen/Getty Images

rise in temperature

Niki Rust, an environmental social scientist who specializes in human-wildlife conflicts, narrates news week that elephants become more aggressive when temperatures rise – and last year saw some of the most extreme heat waves around the world, particularly in their native countries.

Earth’s greenhouse gases trap heat in the atmosphere, causing the planet to warm. This is leading to changing weather patterns and the world is experiencing an increasing number of extreme weather events. In hotter countries, water is evaporating faster with climate change, causing drier weather conditions and droughts. If this continues, some scientists have predicted that some parts of Africa will be hot enough to be habitable for humans by 2050.

For the past decade, Kenya has experienced an extreme drought, with some of the worst conditions expected in 40 years.

These dry temperatures can also reduce food and water supplies.

“What’s happening is that wildlife is becoming increasingly desperate for food and water as climate change affects the things they depend on for survival,” Rust said, adding that elephants have been known to look for boreholes and wells after destroying water “even before climate change was an issue.”

However, as climate change progresses, these circumstances are becoming more common. “[This is] because droughts will become more frequent, more severe and last longer,” she said.

If elephants don’t get the food they need, they face starvation. In 2019, Zimbabwe experienced a devastating drought. The Associated Press reported that 600 elephants were relocated to save their lives, with 200 dying within a month.

elephants
One image shows elephants in Kenya drinking from a lake in dry conditions. Kenya has experienced an extreme drought.
Eric Lafforgue/Art in All of Us/Getty Images

increase in conflicts

Lydia Tiller, research and science manager at Save the Elephants’ human-elephant coexistence program in Kenya news week that they are seeing a huge increase in human-elephant conflicts across Africa.

“Unfortunately, we don’t know the full picture of the long-term impacts of climate change on elephants… There has been an increase in the number of elephants being killed due to conflict. In Kenya, where I work, we are seeing more and more drought years that are having a devastating impact on both humans and elephants.”

Tiller said people in many parts of the country are taking their livestock to national parks for grazing and water, resulting in “huge overgrazing of resources.”

“This creates competition for resources, forcing elephants to seek resources outside of parks. Humans and elephants then come into conflict near water sources or farmland. Without predictable and good rains, this will only get worse,” she said.

A 2021 study by the University of Kent found that the number of incidents linked to crop robbing by elephants has increased by 49 per cent in 15 years. It was also found that farmers had to spend significantly more time protecting their crops.

Tiller said she wouldn’t say elephants “have become more aggressive, have they [that] their temperament changes” – but they come into contact with people more often and there is more aggression towards them. This in turn can provoke elephants and force them to assert themselves.

what can be done

Nikhil Advani, director of climate, communities and wildlife at the World Wildlife Fund (WWF), said news week As climate change continues to fuel conflict, organizations must step in to help the world adapt.

“You have people and their livestock competing with animals like elephants for depletion of grazing and water sources,” he said. “People need water, animals too. In the villages in Maasi Mara it is usually the women who are in charge of fetching water and they have to walk about four kilometers a day to fetch water and when they do they can actually get into the protected wildlife areas invades.”

Advani said to prevent women and elephants from coming into contact and competing for water, they have installed rainwater harvesting systems in the villages. “And then we restored a water source that can be used by wildlife in the sanctuaries,” he said.

However, as climate change worsens, Advani fears there may come a time when initiatives like this will become too difficult to sustain.

“Since the drought is so severe they have to lug water in from everywhere and those are the things we need to keep doing. or impractical,” he said.

elephant drought
One picture shows an elephant in Kenya walking between dead trees. The drought has reduced the elephants’ food supply.
Eric Lafforgue/Art in All of Us/Getty Images

https://www.newsweek.com/elephants-attack-humans-climate-change-pushes-them-brink-1710102 Elephants are attacking humans as climate change drives them to the abyss

Rick Schindler

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