Our Education Outreach Coordinator, Azella Markgraf, is on the path of exploring the situation of human elephant conflict in tea growing regions of India. While researching and gaining a broad spectrum of information about the situation, the regions impacted, the tea growing estates, and aspects of elephant life and culture of the area, she will share her discoveries in her blog posts for TUSK AND TEA. Please read on to join her on her virtual journey to India.
Throughout my life, I have been compelled by many environmental problems globally, and more recently have become increasingly attracted to learning more about issues that involve a conflict with human tradition or cultural activity.
The history of tea is a vibrant and intricate tale woven into the fabric of cultures all across the globe. The “tea plant,” Camellia Sinensis, was presumed to first be used as a medicinal remedy in the villages surrounding the base of the Himilayan Mountains and later developed by the Chinese into a distinguished and staple part of the Chinese culture for many different purposes. The actual origins of tea are shrouded in mythology and folklore and are found connected into the writings of both Confucian and Buddhist belief systems. Since these first instances of use and the initial development of a tea culture, tea has become the second most consumed drink in the world and is mass marketed in thousands of different forms.
Thus, it is not surprising that tea growth and production has expanded into countless regions of the world, predominantly in Asia and Africa. The area consumed by tea production must be vast since tea is a uniquely farmed and produced crop. The tea process is different from all other agricultural crops due to the lengthy and involved series of production steps. Yet, like any farmed product, tea requires SPACE- there are even entire regions of the world dedicated to tea growth, each rich in their own history and successes.
So what happens when humans want to use all of this land for something so important and deeply rooted in their global culture? Well, unfortunately the land does not come without a price. And no, it’s not just money. The tea producing regions of the world are home to a colorful and incredibly special group of animal species, with whom humans have been coming in conflict for centuries. One of these species is the elephant, a huge and majestic creature whose populations are dwindling in comparison with recent years.
The human elephant conflict is one of the main causes of not only elephant deaths, but also a cause of many human deaths, in certain areas of the world. According to the World Wildlife Foundation, in the last 100 years, elephant populations in Africa have declined from between three and five million to between 400 and 700 thousand while the Asian Elephant population has been reduced to less than half of what it once was. These amazing and endangered animals are very frequently the victims of habitat and wildlife fragmentations by farmers who, due to many circumstances, are found to be encroaching on natural elephant habitat. When observed on a map, elephant habitats are few and far between, quite literally. The solitary Asian elephant becomes devastatingly isolated and thus the population of Sumatran Elephants is broken into more than forty groups. This causes a system of confusion among the animals, driving them to venture into human inhabited areas – often with chaos and violence due to their sheer size and strength. When elephant rampages occur, vulnerable human lives are often compromised due to trampling and violence. In India, over 100 people are killed by elephants each year. Elephants thrive in the forests of India, which houses 60% of the entire Asian Elephant population. A tea estate looks strikingly similar to the natural habitat of the elephant, which leads them to believe that they will be safe to roam there. Thus, workers and field laborers of the estates are trampled and killed. Specifically, in Sonitpur, one of the Districts in Assam which is a tea growing region of India, more than half of the people killed by elephants since 2001 have been from a tea estate. In retaliation, many elephants have been killed by hunting, trench trapping, poisoning, and electrocution.
This alarming and concerning amount of conflict in tea-producing areas calls for action. Elephants follow a natural path of migration that is instinctually ingrained in them and the development by humans of the land causes the elephants to become agitated and flustered, often stampeding and destroying entire villages, properties, and compromising valuable agricultural products in their path. Without distinct paths for elephants to travel during their migration periods, the human elephant conflict will only worsen with time and the expansion of human business. The Wildlife Trust of India has found that the safest way for humans and elephants to remain harmoniously connected is through giving the elephants “the right of passage.” This means setting aside land specifically for secure and natural elephant travel, similar to the concept of nature and wildlife sanctuaries. In India, the Wildlife Trust has identified 88 pre-existing elephant “corridors” on which the elephants depend for survival of the species. Not all of these corridors have been safely secured for the elephants, in fact several small villages and residencies exist on them. Only 22.8 percent of the known corridor areas in India are without large settlements. The Wildlife Trust has been working to cooperate with the residents of these villages and help them find safer life without the threat of elephant invasion through voluntary relocation to other areas. The Trust is currently working to purchase the land and secure it as a refuge for elephants and other animal species in the area such as tigers, which are also potentially dangerous to the human population.
India shows the potential to safeguard the lives of thousands of elephants and be a leader in the world for preserving biodiversity and life. Through community participation and participation by the country as a whole, the elephants can remain in their full glory and humans can continue their agricultural and daily life function in the available areas of India. By empowering the people, The Elephant Corridor Project can secure wildlife existence while creating employment and fostering education of the locals.
This blog will be dedicated to discussing this conflict and the solutions to it! I will keep everyone updated on Petali Tea’s involvement with the Wildlife Trust of India and the World Land Trust and our line of ELEPHANT APPROVED tea and merchandise. Furthermore, I hope to go more in depth on some of the specifics of this issue so that we all may learn more about the conflict, culture, and environmental aspects that are involved with the Elephants!!!
*Azella Markgraf is Education Outreach Coordinator for Elephant Approved™.