A mixed-methods assessment of human-elephant conflict in the Western Okavango Panhandle, Botswana.

Published online
04 Sep 2023
Content type
Journal article
Journal title
People and Nature

Buchholtz, E. K. & McDaniels, M. & McCulloch, G. & Songhurst, A. & Stronza, A.
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Human-wildlife conflict, where interactions have negative impacts on both people and animals, is complex with underlying drivers and broad ecological and social impacts. From individual incidents and perceptions, to contemporary patterns and long-term trends, a range of information about human-wildlife conflict can help understand and manage challenges. However, many studies focus on a single data type or spatiotemporal scale. In the Western Okavango Panhandle in Botswana, people in rural farming communities share and compete for resources with a growing African savanna elephant population. Few previous studies have focused on human-wildlife interactions in this region. We assessed spatiotemporal trends in human-elephant conflict using reported conflict incidents (2008-2016), surveys of individual perceptions of conflict encompassing the late 1990s-2016, and detailed field raid assessments from 2016. We found complementary patterns among the data types at different geographic and spatial scales. We found that the number of annual HEC incidents have increased over time, although not evenly across space, with increases primarily in the northern region of the Panhandle. Crop raiding presents both chronic and acute challenges for farmers, with the amount of damage incurred per incident largely dependent on the size of elephant group involved rather than factors within the farmers' control such as guarding or types of crops grown. Our results provide a characterization of contemporary conflict incidents and long-term trends, despite scarce historical data. Combining the reporting and assessment data with surveyed local ecological knowledge offered a multidimensional understanding of human-wildlife conflict for a region where this information was lacking. It is an important precursor to effective and collaborative conflict management and mitigation. When possible, this mixed-methods approach may facilitate understanding for complex human-wildlife interactions and support the diverse communities and stakeholders involved with conflict-related challenges.

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