Kruger National Park, South Africa: A tourist couple were following a bull elephant, attempting to get pictures. At one point, he turned and charged the car, turning it over into the bushes. The woman was seriously injured, and had to be transported to a nearby hospital.
The bull was in musth, which is a time in which their testosterone is extremely high, they are sexually active and quite aggressive. It is obvious by their swollen temporal glands which emit a fluid that runs down their cheeks.
The couple have survived, the elephant was not so lucky. Officials at the park had decided to put him down, due to his aggression.
There has been outrage expressed by some on behalf of the elephant. Afterall, the elephant was doing what elephants do. It is up to people to educate themselves on animal behavior, and it is a known risk they take by entering the park. Surely, this could have been avoided.
Unfortunately this is only one of multiple incidences, not just in South Africa, but globally. With 7 billion people on the planet, and dwindling habitats for animals, everyone is running dangerously short on elbow room.
Kenya fights these battles as well. The country loses 100 lions a year due to human conflict. Most of this is in retaliation of villagers for their goats or cattle being killed. This epidemic, coupled with disease, could well lead to no lions in the country within just 20 years. This dismal disappearance is seen throughout the dark continent, with lions gone from 80% of their original African range.
Elephants are players in the conflict here as well. Crop farming, charcoal burning and human settlements have attributed to just some of the casualties on both sides. 35 people are killed from elephants each year, yet at least 100 elephants are killed daily.
There are individual stories from people for whom the elephants create havoc on their crops, on their daily lives. David Kimita, a 45-year-old farmer and father of four, blames elephants for the breakdown of his marriage. Every time he plants crops, elephants raid his farm, leaving him with nothing for his family.
“My wife depended on me for food, so when there was none, she decided to go – four years ago,” he said
In 1994, Kenya began a Problem Animal Management Unit (PAMU) due to the challenge. The unit is composed of an elite ranger response team and responds to interaction hotspots in the country. Villagers who lose crops or livestock are paid compensation. Without this intervention, too many animals would be lost in retaliation (more than already are).
Since April of 2013, there have been 30 human deaths due to human/animal conflict. 23 of the attacks were from elephants , with the rest from tigers, leopards, wild boars and bears.
With an increasing number of people within the area and less forests, more occurrence of human/animal contact is inevitable. In India alone, hundreds of people die from elephant attacks annually, and an estimated 10-12,000 people a year are killed by venomous snakes. Forest officials expect this number to climb even higher in 2014.
It’s not just people who are harmed. All over India elephant/train accidents are becoming all too common, as the tracks intersect common elephant corridors (see: Growing Pains and Speeding Trains) Decreased habitat and illegal trade contribute to approximately four leopards killed every week. Tigers are also under the gun, literally. At least 39 tigers were poached in 2013, the highest in seven years.
So what’s to be done?
Clearly lions and leopards do not know the difference between livestock and wild animals-prey is prey. Elephants have been taking the same routes in grazing and everyday activity for decades, without anyone giving them notice that villages and train tracks are now being built in their paths.
By 2024 with the human population expected to hit the 8 billion mark, this is an issue that is not going away.
Humans are the more “intelligent”, reasoning creatures (supposedly). If we are to prevent extinction of animals, and preserve flora and fauna, it is imperative to act now. Unity between communities and conservation organizations, as well as land and resource management are key. For just as we are the destroyers, we need to be the saviors.
“Earth provides enough to satisfy every man’s needs, but not every man’s greed.”
― Mahatma Gandhi