Für ein friedliches Zusammenleben von Menschen und Elefanten in Nepal

For a peaceful coexistence of people and elephants in Nepal

By Thies Geertz, Project Manager

When people think of Nepal, they think of the peaks of the Himalayas, the Annapurna base camp and perhaps the conquering of eight-thousanders with oxygen equipment. Few, however, know that below the Himalayas stretches a narrow tropical lowland where tigers, armoured rhinos and elephants find a retreat. Or strange-looking creatures like the Ganges gavial (see picture), an extremely rare crocodile species up to six metres long, of which there are only about 200 left in the wild.  Down there, in the Terai lowlands, on the border with India, is the Bardiya National Park, where about 100 Asian elephants are under strict protection – that's almost two-thirds of Nepal's total population. Since 2019, the Global Nature Fund has been implementing a project there together with the local conservation organisation Ujayalo Nepal and in cooperation with NABU, which benefits the local population and the elephant population in equal measure. The project is funded by the German Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ). The aim of the project is to promote peaceful coexistence between farmers and elephants in the buffer zone of the national park. Elephants repeatedly enter the villages on their extensive forays and trample the crops. This leads to fierce conflicts, which not infrequently end fatally for elephants, but also for individual villagers.

For the first time since the pandemic, it was possible to visit the project and I travelled to the extreme southwest of Nepal to do so. After a one-hour flight with a propeller plane from Kathmandu past the snow-covered peaks of the Himalayas, I landed in the provincial capital Nepalganj. From there it is another three hours' drive to the Bardiya National Park. Golden-yellow rice fields stretch everywhere. After the abundant monsoon rains of summer, it is now dry. It is harvest time and all available forces are working non-stop in the fields to bring in the rice crop that feeds millions of Nepalese. In the past decades, there has been a steady influx of people from the difficult-to-farm mountainous areas to the Terai lowlands with their fertile alluvial soils. Agriculture has steadily expanded and the forest, which is the elephants' ancestral habitat, has been cut down more and more to make way for fields.

© Thies Geertz/GNF


© Thies Geertz/GNF


Conflicts between humans and elephants increase

Time and again, incorrect behaviour on the part of the villagers in encounters with elephants leads to avoidable accidents. When the elephants enter the village, an excited crowd quickly forms. The supposedly bravest of the inhabitants dare to get close to the huge pachyderms and sometimes throw stones to drive them away. This leads to increasing nervousness among the otherwise gentle giants and provokes sudden counterattacks by the elephants against the crowd. Not infrequently, people are trampled to death or thrown into the air. In retaliation, the elephants are then poisoned. Every year there are deaths and injuries. A total of 300 people have been killed by elephants in Nepal.

Fences are no use

The Nepalese government has already tried to separate the villages from the elephants' migration corridors by putting up concrete fences or electric fences - but without success. While rhinos and other wild animals can be restrained quite well by fences, overcoming even electric fences is no problem for the highly intelligent elephants. In addition, the maintenance of this expensive infrastructure to is financially unsustainable for local communities and broken fences cannot be repaired. Even the resettlement of the inhabitants has already been discussed. However, it is not an option due to the general shortage of land in the region.

Only low-cost solutions can be implemented in the villages

For these reasons, our project relies on simple and cost-effective methods to warn the people in the villages early on of the approach of the elephants. For this purpose, we have built simple towers with sirens at nine locations and developed a mobile app that warns the inhabitants when elephants are sighted. Smartphones are increasingly widespread in this remote area of Nepal as well. At the same time, we consistently focus on training the villagers. When elephants appear, the motto is: stay calm, warn everyone and return to the houses until the elephants have left. It has been shown that this has significantly reduced the damage to crops. Moreover, since the project began, there has not been a single death due to a collision with elephants.

At the same time, our local partner has set up a collective savings programme from which compensation payments are made for any damages. This plays a key role in creating long-term acceptance of the pachyderms. We are also campaigning at provincial level for the government to step in and handle the compensation payments in a non-bureaucratic manner.

Local elephant conservation groups are the link

The elephant conservation groups, the so-called Hathimirosathi, which have been established and trained in the villages, play a crucial role in the implementation of the measures. They pass on their knowledge about the behaviour and movements of the elephants to the villagers, receive information from the national park administration and support the villagers in case of damage. The Hathimirosathi are mainly made up of young people – among them a conspicuously large number of women. The Hathimirosathi form the link between the national park administration and the villagers. This is the first time that information about the elephants has flowed from the authorities to the villagers.

© Thies Geertz/GNF



"The only lasting solution is to accept the elephants and change the behaviour of the villagers," says Shusila Chetri, a young conservationist from a village near Bardiya National Park. "The elephants will not change their behaviour, but we humans are able to do so through education. Through the work of the Hathimirosathi, we have been able to show that this is possible and that the damage can be reduced," Shusila continues.


We are very happy that the Global Nature Fund will support Shusila Chetri and the Hathimirosathi for another three years to build on the first encouraging successes.

© Thies Geertz/GNF