Anna Sakellariadis, MESc

2013 TRI Fellow in Kenya

How Local Experience Engenders Local Perceptions of Elephants, and its Implications for Conservation.

In Kenya, elephant range covers spaces that are beyond the boundaries of protected areas, and includes lands occupied by humans. In elephant crop raiding incidents, subsistence farmers can see an elephant destroy an entire season’s worth of crops in a single night. These farmers are typically left to deal with the negative externality of crop raiding on their own, are limited in their ability to address the problem, and are excluded from elephant conservation processes. Given evidence that shows that smallholder farmers believe the effects of elephant crop raiding to be larger than they actually are, it is of paramount importance to understand the deeper, systemic context of the problem. The objective of this study, supported with a grant from the Tropical Resources Institute, was to explore some of the psychosocial, anthropological, and political underpinnings of elephant crop raiding issues, in the case of a project that enhances local ability to ward off elephants from farms.

King, Douglas-Hamilton, and Vollrath (2011) proposed “beehive fences” as a means of protecting farms from elephants, and found that the fences significantly deterred elephants from crop raiding. The study did not focus, however, on the layered context of perceptions of elephants amongst farmers involved in the program: following involvement in the beehive fence project, how did perceptions of elephants amongst smallholder farmers change? Moreover, were those perceptions more supportive of conservation outcomes? To address these questions, semi-structured interviews and focus groups were conducted amongst two test groups and two control groups. In pursuing this line of inquiry, this study provides insight into the larger consideration of whether addressing negative perceptions of elephants amongst smallholder farmers might ultimately support elephant conservation outcomes.