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11 May 2021 Scars of human–elephant conflict: patterns inferred from field observations of Asian elephants in Sri Lanka
Chase A. LaDue, Rajnish P. G. Vandercone, Wendy K. Kiso, Elizabeth W. Freeman
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Context. Human–elephant conflict (HEC) is a major threat to Asian elephants as humans and elephants are forced to share common resources. In Sri Lanka, human-dominated landscapes adjacent to protected areas promote high rates of HEC, especially in the form of crop-foraging by elephants. Crop-foraging can be dangerous to both elephants and humans involved in the conflict. Gunfire is a common way for human communities to deter crop-foraging elephants, and gunshot wounds are commonly described in this elephant population on necropsy.

Aims. We sought to quantify and describe unique scar patterns among Asian elephants in a protected area, Wasgamuwa National Park, attributed to HEC.

Methods. We identified 38 adult female and 64 adult male elephants and recorded the age class and body condition of each with established standards. Using photographs, we counted the number, position, and relative size of all scars on each animal.

Key results. Male elephants had significantly more scars than did females, and for males, the number of scars increased progressively with age. Additionally, male elephants with higher body conditions had more scars. Finally, males tended to have more scars towards the head, especially at older ages.

Conclusions. Differences in total scar counts between the sexes in this population imply that male elephants in this area more frequently engage in HEC than do females, following observations previously described in the literature. Furthermore, the fact that male elephants acquired progressively more scars as they aged, and that fatter elephants had more scars, indicates that previous exposure to HEC may not have been a deterrent for future events among these males, and potentially, crops served as valuable food sources for these animals. Finally, the changing body locations of these scars with age in males possibly shows plastic behavioural responses during crop-foraging or lower tolerance by farmers towards habitual crop foragers.

Implications. These results emphasise the need for animal-based approaches to HEC mitigation. Similarly, conservation managers in Sri Lanka and other elephant range countries should investigate similar methods that estimate patterns of HEC to develop effective management strategies directly targeting animals most likely to engage in conflict.

© CSIRO 2021
Chase A. LaDue, Rajnish P. G. Vandercone, Wendy K. Kiso, and Elizabeth W. Freeman "Scars of human–elephant conflict: patterns inferred from field observations of Asian elephants in Sri Lanka," Wildlife Research 48(6), 540-553, (11 May 2021).
Received: 13 October 2020; Accepted: 14 February 2021; Published: 11 May 2021
Asian elephant
body condition
human–elephant conflict
Sri Lanka
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