When Elephants Clash with Humans: The Impact of Climate Change on Wildlife Behavior

Although elephants are typically considered to be gentle giants, climate change is causing an increase in attacks on humans. In India, around 500 people are killed by elephants every year, mainly due to crop-raiding incidents. Unfortunately, as these incidents increase, so does retaliation from villagers, with crop poisoning becoming a popular form of revenge. Additionally, in April 2022, six people were trampled by elephants in the Dhamtari district of India. In Africa, elephants are entering farmlands in search of food and water, leading to incidents such as a herd of 28 elephants destroying 18 homesteads and fences in a Namibian village in 2018. When farmers in Northern Kenya threatened to kill elephants invading their farms in 2021, animal welfare groups intervened. While elephants are typically gentle, they may become aggressive when feeling vulnerable or threatened, which appears to be happening more frequently due to climate change.

Elephant

According to Niki Rust, an environmental social scientist who specializes in human and wildlife conflict, climate change may not alter the temperament of animals due to increased temperatures. However, it can make them more desperate for food and water as climate change affects their source of survival. Carnivores, for example, are more likely to prey on livestock during droughts when wild prey numbers have depleted. Elephants have been known to destroy boreholes and wells in search of water even before climate change, but this will become more frequent due to climate change, which will cause more severe and longer droughts. In hotter countries, water evaporates more quickly due to climate change, resulting in drier weather conditions and droughts. Scientists predict that some parts of Africa will become uninhabitable for humans by 2050 if the situation continues. Kenya has experienced extreme droughts over the past decade, with some of the most severe conditions expected in 40 years. These drier temperatures can also lead to food and water shortages, putting animals like elephants at risk of starvation. In 2019, about 600 elephants were relocated in Zimbabwe due to a devastating drought, and 200 of them subsequently died within a month.

Elephants

The impact of climate change on elephants is leading to an increase in human-elephant conflict across Africa, according to Lydia Tiller, research and science manager at Save the Elephants. Drought years in Kenya are particularly devastating for both humans and elephants, with people taking their livestock into national parks for grazing and water, leading to overgrazing of resources and competition for water sources. A 2021 study found that crop-raiding elephant-related incidents had increased by 49% over 15 years. To prevent women and elephants competing for water, rainwater harvesting systems have been installed in villages and water sources have been restored for wildlife in protected areas. However, as climate change worsens, it may become increasingly difficult to maintain such initiatives.

Elephant drought

Scroll to Top