The conflict between humans and elephants in the central African forests



Elephants and humans each suffer from the presence of the other when they occupy the same forests. Farmers risk losing their crops to elephants, while elephants are displaced by settlements, agriculture, roads and development projects. Elephants have also been hunted for ivory. The ivory trade in the equatorial forests expanded in the nineteenth century as Europe prospered, and then again in the twentieth century as the Far East prospered. Forest elephant numbers were depleted each time.

Elephants are unpopular in the forest zone, and increasing human populations combined with the spread of democracy in central Africa pose a major threat to their future. If elephants are to be tolerated by villagers living in the equatorial forests, the costs they impose must be reduced and the benefits to the rural populace must be increased. A three-pronged strategy is suggested, involving land-use planning, measures to mitigate crop damage, and programmes to enhance the value of elephants. Elephants could be viewed as assets if their importance in the forest ecosystem were recognized, if they were domesticated for logging or transport, or if their presence was one of the factors which attracted tourists to the forest zone. However, management strategies based on hunting have the best chance of conserving elephants because of the importance of hunting in the culture of the forest people. Sport hunting for trophies may bring the greatest revenues. Community wildlife-management programmes, where village councils make the decisions, could prevent overexploitation. There are no simple answers, however, because one form of management may conflict with the goals of another.