Animal and Plant Ecology

Navigating Coexistence: Addressing Human-Elephant Encounters in the Buffer Zone of Bardiya National Park, Nepal

  • PAHARI Sagar , 1 ,
  • JOSHI Rajeev , 2, * ,
  • PAUDEL Umesh 3
  • 1. Southern Cross University, Lismore, New South Wales 2480, Australia
  • 2. College of Natural Resource Management, Faculty of Forestry, Agriculture and Forestry University, Katari, Udayapur 56310, Nepal
  • 3. National Trust for Nature Conservation, Bardiya 21800, Nepal
*JOSHI Rajeev, E-mail:

PAHARI Sagar, E-mail:

Received date: 2022-10-08

  Accepted date: 2023-04-30

  Online published: 2024-03-14


The Asian Elephant (Elephas maximus) is one of the important megafaunas in protected areas of the Terai (lowland) region of Nepal. They often encounter humans and their livelihood-supporting activities in the proximity of forest boundary within the protected area. The human-elephant conflict has been one of the major issues in the human settlement close to the protected area, which has caused economic losses and poised a threat to human lives every year. The issue has obstructed sustainable management initiatives within the protected areas. The objective of the study is to analyze the cause of the human-elephant conflict in the Buffer Zone of Bardiya National Park and to assess people’s perception of this megafauna. The structured questionnaire survey was done in three municipalities within the Buffer Zone of Bardiya National Park. Besides, key informants’ interview was done to supplement the questionnaire survey. The result shows that 93% of the respondents have been a victim of elephant attacks in the past three years. Last year, on average, each household lost approximately NRs 9690 (USD 1 = NRs 132.72) worth of stored harvest due to the elephant attack. Most of the attack occurs during the season between July to September, followed by the season between October to December. It also indicates that the preference of elephants for crops is the primary cause of elephant attacks/raids in the study area. The second important cause of the elephant attack is insufficient food base which is followed by the expansion of agricultural fields towards the forest. Ninety percent of respondents react to the elephant attack by chasing them (using fire or noise). Fifty-one percent of respondents accept the human-elephant coexistence because of their biological and economic values. However, 40% of them reject the coexistence because of the threat posed by the elephant upon the local people and their livelihood. Human-elephant conflict hinders the management campaign and therefore has to be resolved through collaboration of the protected area, the local people and the administrative stakeholders. It is suggested that more study has to be made to acknowledge the pattern of residing as well as migrating elephants around forest boundaries and adjacent settlements.

Cite this article

PAHARI Sagar , JOSHI Rajeev , PAUDEL Umesh . Navigating Coexistence: Addressing Human-Elephant Encounters in the Buffer Zone of Bardiya National Park, Nepal[J]. Journal of Resources and Ecology, 2024 , 15(2) : 412 -421 . DOI: 10.5814/j.issn.1674-764x.2024.02.015

1 Introduction

The Asian Elephant (Elephas maximus) is listed as an endangered species in the IUCN red list because of its declining population status at least 50% over the last three generations (Williams et al., 2020). There is an alarming fragmentation of its native habitat (Choudhury et al., 2008). In Nepal, for instance, the Asian Elephant habitat has shrunk to leave just four isolated fragments of habitat (DNPWC, 2008; Pradhan et al., 2011). A steep increase in the human population and the expansion of agricultural fields towards existing elephant habitats has increased elephant activities around the human settlement and agricultural crops (Pradhan et al., 2011). There is a significant correlation between financial disruption incurred due to crop damage and the extent of habitat fragmentation due to the transformation of land use (Shrestha, 2007). Hence, the occurrence of these activities is not only because of habitat loss but also because of the preference of the Asian Elephant for agricultural crops (Sukumar, 1990; Pradhan et al., 2011). The palatability and nutritional content of agricultural crops are the driving factors of elephants’ preference towards agricultural crops (Sukumar, 1990). Such interactions, therefore, are the root cause of human-elephant conflict and are hindering the conservation of the elephant and the biodiversity as a whole (Parker et al., 2007). The human-elephant conflict is a complicated issue as it poses risk to both the traditional residents, elephants and their co-existence (Sitati et al., 2003).
Bardiya National Park is one of the four isolated fragments of elephant habitat in Nepal (DNPWC, 2008). Bardiya National Park also possesses a habitat link (Khata-Katarniyaghat corridor) which directly connects the Bardiya National Park with Katarniyaghat wildlife sanctuary in India that facilitates the transboundary movement of elephants in this habitat fragment (Ten Velde, 1997). Even though the status of human-elephant conflict is severe, the people’s perception towards the existence of this large mammal and the conservation effort of the National Park is positive (Shrestha, 2007). Therefore, understanding of the spatial, as well as temporal pattern of conflict and the extent of damage, is important to apply effective management interventions for mitigation of conflict (Sukumar, 2006; Barnes, 2009; Hedges and Gunaryadi, 2010). The Asian Elephant is responsible for the highest number of human casualties and deaths in any human-wildlife conflict (Acharya et al., 2016). Out of the total human-wildlife conflict occurring in Nepal, human-elephant conflict solely contributes to 40% of the wildlife attacks each year (Bajimaya, 2012). Human- elephant conflict is one of the major concerns for the local communities residing in the proximity of the forest. It has led to substantial economic loss to those communities, and it is recurring every year. Paddy (i.e. rice) is the main crop for farmers in the study area. Previous reports suggest elephant’s preference is on paddy fields because most of the attacks occur on the paddy fields during the season of paddy ripening (Bal et al., 2011; Gubbi, 2012). Attacks were also reported to have occurred during winter months (Acharya et al., 2016). However, the definite pattern of attack is ambiguous because of the lack of temporal and spatial pattern of elephant activity in the Buffer Zone of Bardiya National Park. Destruction of physical properties by elephants in the area is another primary concern. Neupane et al. (2018) noted that elephants attack storehouses for stored paddy. The motive of damage may be paddy, but it is still not enough to prove the cause because of the lack of study of pattern and dimension of conflict, particularly in the area.
The human-elephant conflict (HEC) has a direct and intense effect on the livelihood of people living in and around the Buffer Zone of Bardiya National Park. It results in damage to the source of their income and demolition of their shelter. The rate of HEC incidents is increasing in Nepal due to habitat fragmentation and an increase in elephant population migrating from India (Pradhan et al., 2011; Pant et al., 2016). HEC incidents are not uniformly distributed in Nepal. It is comparatively less in central lowland Nepal due to a small population (25-30 individuals) of wild elephants remaining within the protected areas of Chitwan National Park and Parsa National Park (Pradhan et al., 2011). However, the conflict is increasing in recent years (Silwal et al., 2016). Several mitigation measures have been implemented to reduce HEC incidents but none of them is effective in long-term (Fernando et al., 2011). Hence, HEC has become the foremost, widely debatable conservation issue and challenge for government, policymakers, conservationist and local people of Asia and Africa including Nepal (Sukumar, 2006; DNPWC, 2009). The concern over the conflict is alarming because the trend of elephant vandalism is increasing in and around Bardiya National Park (Pradhan et al., 2011). There are numerous potential causes of the conflict in the area. The lack of food in the dry season (Gubbi, 2012), preference towards paddy (Neupane et al., 2018) and migrating behaviour of elephants (Koirala et al., 2016) may be significant causes among them. The causes of conflict, the spatial and temporal pattern of conflict and the extent of the damage must be identified to comprehend the status of human-elephant conflict and to devise long-term management of human-elephant coexistence (Madhusudan et al., 2015; Shaffer et al., 2019). The main aim of the research was to describe the status of elephant interactions with humans, its causes and to assess people’s perception towards elephants in and around human settlement within the study area.

2 Materials and methods

2.1 Study area

This study was carried out in the southern plain of the Terai region of Nepal (Fig. 1). The study area was within the selected settlement of the Buffer Zone of Bardiya National Park. Bardiya National Park (968 km2) represents one of four isolated habitat fragments of the Asian Elephant (Pradhan et al., 2011). It is situated in the South-Western part of Nepal. It is known to be the primary habitat for Asian Elephant as it holds the majority of the elephant population in Nepal, which is approximately 80 individuals (Pradhan, 2007). Approximately 40-50 migrating elephants pass across the Khata corridor from the connected, protected area (Katarniyaghat Wildlife Sanctuary) of India every year (Pradhan et al., 2011; Neupane et al., 2013).
Fig. 1 Bardiya National Park and Buffer Zone
The study area covered three municipalities within the Buffer Zone of Bardiya National Park, namely Thakurbaba, Geruwa and Madhuwan (Fig. 1). The area includes 13 wards (a small political division within a municipality) that have a higher frequency of elephant movement and activity. The study area, therefore, had five pre-established clusters to monitor elephant activities in the area. Our field observation and data collection have strictly remained within the area.

2.2 Research design

2.2.1 Data collection

The research was started with a preliminary survey. Every government office and national park office had information desks that answer queries of the stakeholder. Protected area officials and local conservationists were contacted through the available information desk of the respective office. They were contacted either through email or over the phone to obtain the general information of the study area. The general information included:
• The location of settlements.
• The schedule of festivals and cultural ceremonies.
• Social norms and values.
• The history of significant human-elephant interactions.
This information was used to schedule the primary data collection so that it would not coincide with any significant events happening in the study area. The information on social norms and cultural beliefs was used to guide the research assistants (data collectors) to understand the community values and the people within the study area. Research assistants were selected from within the locality to ease the data collection process as he/she was able to understand the values more than the non-local researcher. The preliminary survey was followed by a household survey and key informants interview.

2.2.2 Household survey

Household (HH) survey was conducted within 13 wards from three municipalities (Thakurbaba, Geruwa and Madhuban) within the Buffer Zone of Bardiya National Park. The selection of the respondents was determined through ‘Simple Random Sampling’. Altogether 100 households were randomly selected from the list of households residing within the study area and surveyed. The lottery method was used to avoid bias during the selection of respondent households. The selected households included the victims (who had suffered the damage from an elephant), witnesses (who had observed the interaction and damage) and the instigators (who had caused damage to an elephant) of human-elephant conflict. The structured questionnaire was prepared based on the specific objectives and was presented to the local people. The questionnaire included the following points:
• Livelihood practice (occupation), the status of agriculture and animal husbandry.
• Types of crops cultivated in a different season.
• Details of damaged and undamaged crops on an agricultural field.
• History of elephant movement in their fields.
• Numbers of elephants in a herd.
• The type of human encounter with the elephant and the risk posed by them.
• Details of human casualty and death.
• Economic loss due to property and crops damaged.
• Beliefs, cultures and social norms related to elephants.
• People’s experience and perception.
The questionnaire survey was done either through face-to-face interview, or through mail/email, or over a phone. Questions were asked only to the adult citizen of every household. The information regarding the survey was provided to the participants through the information sheet that was provided to participants before the survey. Research assistants assisted the disbursement of the document. A consent form (sent along with the information sheet) was also requested to be filled by participants and asked for approval from participants to participate in the questionnaire survey. This survey collected information regarding the primary causes of human-elephant conflict. It also collected the data regarding the perception of people towards the elephant.

2.2.3 Key informant interview

Key informant survey was conducted to identify the general scenario of extent and frequency of the human-elephant conflict. Also, it helped to check the authenticity of the data collected through the household survey. Key informants were Bardiya National Park management committee personnel and government officials, Army personnel, NTNC- Bardiya National Park authorities, schoolteachers, local leaders, local elite groups, farm labourers and tourists’ guides. Another questionnaire was prepared, and the subjective detail of the conflict was extracted from the interview. The interview with farmers, farm labourers, local tourist guides and local elites had focused on the following points:
• The most elephant-affected site.
• Their history about the observation and interaction with elephants.
• Their technique to avoid or to minimise the interaction.
Similarly, the interview with the conservation officials had included the following points:
• The details of complaints regarding the loss due to conflict.
• The magnitude of damage, economic loss, human injuries and death.
• Any harm that was done to the elephant reported inside the national park and reason for the harm.
• The attitude of local people towards the conservation efforts made by the national park.
This survey had also been conducted either through the face-to-face interview or through mail/email or over a phone. The same process of disbursement of information sheets and consent forms was done before conducting the survey. Only subjective details of the human-elephant conflict were included in the form for key informants; therefore, was different from the questionnaire form.

2.2.4 Additional data collection

Secondary data were collected from Bardiya national park-NTNC regional office, district forest office Bardiya, relevant NGOs and GOs. Following activities were included in the process:
• Collection of pamphlets and booklets from the information centre.
• Collection of tourist manuals, maps and references.
• Collection of training manuals from archives of District Forest Office, Bardiya National Park and Buffer Zone Community Forests.
The secondary data was used to comprehend the effort of responsible authorities on the management of human-elephant conflict. The rational analysis of the primary information, especially skewed data, was facilitated through the interpretation of secondary data.

2.2.5 Analysis

The collected data were analysed to produce descriptive statistics to extract information about the conflict. MS Excel was used to interpret the causes and extent of the conflict. Graphs and figures were produced to represent the results.

3 Results

3.1 Socio-economic profile of respondents

37% of the respondents were of the age between 41-50 years old. Similarly, 20% of respondents were of the age between 31-40 years, and 16% of them were of age between 51-60 years. 61% of respondents were male, whereas, 39% of them were female. 79% of respondents were primary level literates. Only 15% of respondents were illiterate. The landholding of 61% of respondents was of medium size (1700 m2 to 8500 m2) whereas 29% of respondents were of small size (less than 1700 m2). The average family size of respondents’ household was 6.26. The primary source of income was agriculture, followed by labour (Fig. 2). 69% of the respondents were farmers.
Ninety-six percent of the respondents said that paddy was their primary crop. Similarly, for their secondary crop, 46% of respondents mentioned maize, 18% mentioned potato and 6% mentioned wheat. Every respondent cultivated paddy on their agricultural farm. An elephant attack affected 93% of the respondents in the past three years.

3.2 The nature of elephant attack

Most of the respondents (57% of responses) mentioned that the elephant attack occurred in the period between July to September, which was followed by a high frequency in the period between October to December (Fig. 3). Eighty-nine percent of the respondents stated that the elephant attacks occurred during night-time.
Fig. 3 Period of an elephant attack
The isolated individual of an elephant was rarely witnessed in the study area, as most of the respondents saw herds of elephants with two or more individuals in each herd during elephant attacks/raids (Fig. 4).
Fig. 4 Number of elephants in a herd during the attack

3.3 The extent of the damage

Most of the respondents (91%) suffered crop damages due to elephant attack in the past three years. Out of them, 65% of the respondents lost paddy on the elephant raid, and 26% of them lost maize. Most of the damages (54%) were moderate severity, whereas 28% of damages were high. Only 7% of the damages were severe (Fig. 5).
Fifty-eight percent of the respondents responded that they lost less than 20% of their total crop yield on the elephant attack whereas 30% of the respondents mentioned that they lost 20%-60% of their total crop yield on an average in past three years (Fig. 6).
Fig. 6 Percent of crop lost during elephant raid
Around 90% of the attack occurred in the agricultural field near settlements, whereas only 9% of the attack occurred in the farming field far from settlements. Forty percent of respondents said that they also lost stored crops (paddy) from the storehouse on the elephant attack. In an average, each household lost about NRs 9690 (USD 1 = NRs 132.72) worth of stored produce last year. Among 100 respondents, the family of only one respondent (or their family) was a direct victim of elephant attack in the past three years.

3.4 The trend of elephant attack

Seventy-one percent of respondents noticed an increasing trend on crop damage, and sixty-eight percent of respondents saw a growing trend on the human casualty. There was a change in elephant behaviour, and 73% of the respondents admitted the change. The behaviour change included increased cleverness (42% of responses) and increased aggression (11% of responses).

3.5 The human-elephant conflict

The respondents were asked to rank the causes of elephant’s attack/raid in human settlements. Each option was then relatively ranked using the weight of the corresponding rank. Finally, the weighted rank was obtained. Insufficient food base and preference towards crops are two significant reasons for elephant intrusion into a human settlement with a comparatively higher index of a relative followed by expansion of agricultural field towards forest and poor crop-selection and crop-rotation practice (Fig. 7).
Fig. 7 Causes of human-elephant conflict
Most of the respondents agreed that the area around the forest was transformed into various forms for anthropogenic benefits. 53% of respondents responded that the transformation was for the settlement and livelihood purpose (Fig. 8). Similarly, 28% of them thought that the conversion was made because of the suitable productivity of the land.
Fig. 8 Reasons of transformation of existing land into different land cover
For the control of elephant attack, local people used various control measures. The normal fencing was the most common one, followed by improved view towers (Fig. 9). Though they were common control measures, they were not sufficient to significantly control elephants from getting into the human settlements or agricultural field.
Fig. 9 Existing control measures used by local people to control elephant attacks
Since the proximity of settlement was very close to the forest/national park boundary, mitigation of elephant activities around the human settlement was very difficult. However, local people suggested that providing proper compensation to the damage could help them cope with the loss caused by human-elephant conflict. Besides, improving fences around the agricultural field and forest boundary could help reduce the elephant movement into the human settlement or agricultural field (Fig. 10).
Fig. 10 Suggested mitigation measures to manage human-elephant conflict

3.6 The perception of people

Even though the elephant was causing problems to human and their daily activities, 51% of respondents accepted elephant existence in the forest near or around their settlement. However, 41% of them did not accept elephant existence in or around their settlement (Fig. 11).
Fig. 11 Acceptance of human-elephant coexistence
Among the accepting respondents, most of them indicated that biodiversity value, natural value and tourism value were the most critical factors to accept the elephant’s existence (Fig. 12).
Fig. 12 Reasons to accept human-elephant coexistence
Similarly, among the rejecting respondents, most of them mentioned that ‘attack on human’ was the main reason for the rejection of elephant existence in and around the settlement. Besides, crop damage and property damage were also important reasons (Fig. 13).
Fig. 13 Reasons to reject human-elephant coexistence
Ninety percent of the respondents retaliated the elephant intrusion by chasing them either by using fire or noise (Fig. 14). In Jalthal VDC of Nepal, the percentage of the chase (by fire or by noise) was 62% (Neupane et al., 2018).
Fig. 14 Retaliation action
Eighty-two percent of total respondents do not even know about the compensation scheme of the national park, and only 11% of them apply for the compensation. The lack of awareness and lack of efficient effort for the mitigation of human-elephant conflict poise risk for human-elephant coexistence.
Therefore, most of the respondents think that improved compensation scheme can help the human-elephant coexistence in the Buffer Zone of Bardiya National Park (Fig. 15). Besides, improving risk mitigation measures and increasing human awareness can also help to sustain the coexistence in the study area.
Fig. 15 Measures to improve human-elephant coexistence

4 Discussion

4.1 The cause of human-elephant conflict

The result of relative ranking indicated that ‘preference towards crops’ and ‘Insufficient food base’ were primary causes of elephant attack. ‘Expansion of agricultural field’ was another important cause which was ranked third in the relative ranking. The primary cause, i.e., ‘preference towards crops’, was in close agreement to the conclusion drawn by Goswami et al. (2015) who had also mentioned that elephants raided agricultural fields to browse in growing crops. Similarly, Liu et al. (2016) indicated that elephants raid on crops was because of the energy-efficient browse. A research done in Baundangi region of Nepal concluded that the agricultural field provided easy access to protein and other nutrition supplements to elephants through crops that entice elephants on the farm (Dhakal and Thapa, 2019). Among the damaged crops, results showed that paddy was the most raided crops as 65% of respondents lost paddy in elephant attacks in the past three years, followed by maize (26% of respondents). This result was similar to the outcome from research done among 13 Asian countries which were the habitat for the Asian Elephant, which indicated that elephants showed a preferential inclination towards paddy and maize (Gross et al., 2017).
Most of the attack occurred during the period between July to December (57% between July to September and 37% between October to December). Research on the human-elephant conflict in Chitwan National Park and Parsa National Park also showed the similar result where Pant et al. (2016) concluded that crop-raiding was high during June-July season followed by September-November season. These are the seasons when maize and paddy matures and becomes more palatable (Lamichhane et al., 2018). The second-ranked cause, i.e., ‘insufficient food base’, was reinforced by previous studies on elephant behaviours. A research done on Uganda by Rode et al. (2006) drew the inference that elephants wandered around their habitat and ended up in human settlements in search of their food. A research done in Parsa Wildlife Reserve and Chitwan National Park concluded that out of 26 most palatable species for elephants, only eight species had preference index of three and above (Koirala et al., 2016). Therefore, due to the limited food base in the habitat, they raided agricultural farms for easy and readily available choice in crops.
In the ranking order, the third cause of the human-elephant conflict was ‘expansion of agricultural field’. Various anthropogenic activities that were deteriorating the elephant habitat and the encroachment of forest for agriculture was one of them (Calabrese et al., 2017). Transformation of the area around the forest was made mainly for settlement (53%) and agriculture (28%) which disturbed the elephant habitat in and around the adjacent forest. This result was coherent to a research done by Hoare (1999) which indicated that the change of natural landcover into human settlements and agricultural lands reduced the area of elephant’s habitat and confined elephants in fragments.

4.2 The people’s perception towards elephants

The perception of local people towards elephants was of great significance in the effective implementation of conservation and management programs in and around protected areas (Neupane et al., 2017). The negative perception was one of many drivers of human-elephant conflict (Dublin and Hoare, 2004). In contrast, a positive attitude was one of many factors to improve the ‘willingness to pay’ for the management and mitigation of human-elephant conflict (Neupane et al., 2017).
Ninety-three per cent of respondents were affected by elephant attack in the past three years. A similar result was found in a survey done in Nepal in 2017, where 69% of respondents from Bardiya district were affected by elephant attack in the past five years. Bardiya was one of two districts which had the most damage caused due to elephant attack (Neupane et al., 2017). Amid the circumstances created by the elephant attack in the study area, 51% of respondents still accepted the existence of the elephant in and around the forest near their residency. Neupane et al. (2018) also found that the perception of local people towards problematic elephant was not as negative as it was expected to be, despite the attack record in the study area. In similar research in central Nepal, 37% of respondents had positive attitudes towards elephants (Pant et al., 2016).
Various factors helped to maintain the positive perception of local people towards elephants. The biodiversity value of elephants, their natural value as megafauna and their economic value through tourism were major factors that respondents believed maintained the positive attitude towards elephants. Economic value for promoting tourism and natural value for the rare species were important factors to keep the positive perception intact (Pant et al., 2016). Conversely, there were many reasons to reject the existence of elephants in and around the adjacent forest. The respondents ranked ‘attack on human’, ‘crop damage’ and ‘property damage’ as the three most important factors to abominate the existence of elephants. In the previous study, Pant et al. (2016) also found a possible threat of attack on human, crops and property as reasons to have a negative perception towards elephants. In research in Yala and Kahalle region of Sri Lanka also, the personal threat was considered as the main reason for negative human attitude towards elephant (Fernando et al., 2005).
Respondents responded and ranked ‘the improved compensation scheme’ as the primary measure that could improve the human-elephant coexistence in the settlement and the adjacent forest, which was followed by ‘human awareness’ and ‘effective mitigating measures’. Effective mitigating measures were essential to managing the perception of local people and the human-elephant conflict as a whole (Neupane et al., 2013). A research on the Asian Elephant in the Karnataka state of India resembled similar result where Gubbi et al. (2014) concluded that compensation schemes and effective mitigation measures could help to enhance the positive perception towards the species and the whole conservation program.

5 Conclusions

The research has analysed the extent of human-elephant conflict in the Buffer Zone of Bardiya National Park of Nepal. It has also analysed causes of the prevalent human-elephant conflict. The result illustrates the experiences and thoughts of respondents. The primary cause of human-elephant conflict is the preference of the Asian Elephant towards crops. This preference has caused substantial economic loss to the local people. Such traumatic financial losses have influenced the attitude of local people towards human-elephant coexistence. Similarly, the other cause of human-elephant conflict is the insufficient food base. To fulfil the nutrition requirement of this megafauna, available palatable species on the forest is not sufficient. Therefore they wander around the forest boundary and end up in the agricultural field to feed on growing crops. The third important cause is the expansion of the agricultural field towards the forest. Habitat degradation and encroachment has caused the transformation of habitat to different anthropogenic land covers such as agricultural farms and human settlements. This phenomenon has decreased the food base of elephants on the adjacent forest and has forced elephant to raid on crops in the vicinity of forest boundaries. Despite of increasing trend of HEC, people from BZUCs of the Bardiya National Park consider elephants to be nation’s treasure and have positive perception towards elephants, and their retaliation action includes chasing only. To enhance the positive attitude and to improve the human-elephant coexistence in the study area, it is essential to improve the flexibility and limits of the compensation scheme. Finally, more studies should be done on the population of resident and migratory elephants to map the movement and predict the crop raid in coming days. Besides, alternative cropping should be emphasized that will not attract elephant on the agricultural field.
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