People for Elephants: The Story of "Airavat"

North Kanara District in Karnataka has about 70 elephants. Between August to January, elephants visit the ripened paddy and sugarcane fields in Haliyal, Yellapur and Dandeli divisions. Each year during the “elephant season”, the atmosphere is chaotic as everyone is trying to drive away the elephants from the fields by hook or by crook. Since 2010, we began  implementing  the “community-based conflict management (CBCM)” model wherein we train and motivate the farmers to use simple and low-cost crop guarding measures that they can use to protect their fields from the elephants. After six years of continued dialogue, we could involve more than 500 farmers in the project activities who are now using the suggested methods independently to reduce crop damage due to elephants.

The story does not end here. In most human-elephant landscapes, local communities bear considerable ire towards the elephants because elephants disrupt their economic and social securities. In today’s situation, where elephants are perceived as the “enemy of the state”, it is difficult to draw people towards elephant conservation. When we began discussions with the local communities in our project area we got the simple reply that “we consider the elephants as an enemy because they cause harm to us”.  It was clear that in conflict-prone areas, elephants are perceiverd as "no good doers".

The way people looked at elephants needed to change. In November 2015 we introduced the concept of elephants as an income generating source. We began training the women in making elephant-themed craft items as an additional source of income. The concept was welcomed by the women and they came together to form AIRAVAT Self-Help Groups (SHG). At present the 6 SHGs are being trained in making paper quilling trinkets, decorative items from felt and honey from the wooden log hives.

During the craft workshop it is interesting to watch how the members come together, discuss the designs and color combinations and make elephant themed items amidst a lot of laughter and joy …and the appealing part is to hear them discuss whose elephant is more attractive and how much money it will fetch them. It is encouraging to see that with a few simple steps, elephants have gained a new esteem of a small section of people…thus marking the beginning of a new journey. Do visit this space for updates from AIRAVAT.

This project is being supported by Asian Elephant Conservation Fund (AECF), US Fish and Wildlife Service.