The beast is us

Dame Daphne Sheldrick

Dame Daphne Sheldrick

I came to know about Dame Daphne Sheldrick through our book Giant Hearts. She graciously offered to write the preface and I discovered the extent of her work in Africa. I also discovered this picture of her on the web and somehow, this fragile old lady holding a young African elephant that looks absolutely overpowering and affectionate, made me wonder. This is supposed to be, with the Asian elephant, the horrible beast source of conflicts.

Now, if you consider the Greeks and the Turks, the Chinese and the Japanese, the Zulus and the Boers, the English and the French, etc. you see that we humans, are impossible to live with. Elephants are “in conflict” with us because of our inability to co-exist.

Some may say: “but farmers really suffer from elephants.” This is true. But, first remove the illegal settlements and reduce the provocations (like stopping a car near an elephant). And second consider the fact that nothing is done to organize activities at the regional level (like advising farmers on which crop to grow and helping them to shift to a better kind of agriculture). From my experience, when elephants are undisturbed and not attracted by our food, they are calm and peaceful animals. We see them every day crossing the Trust’s property not bothered one bit by our presence (we slowly come indoors), our noise or even low conversations. Not once in two years have I felt threatened.

As many in conservation biology say, the conflict is actually mostly a human – human conflict and not really a human – wildlife conflict. This is true with all of wildlife all over the world. As far as the elephant is concerned, conflict has a lot to do with management. But can we manage biodiversity if we can’t tolerate our neighbor? Can we do it if we don’t want to help the poor farmers?

Jean-Philippe Puyravaud