The Neglect of Traditional Ecological Knowledge (TEK) Increasing Human-Elephant Conflicts

In the late 1950s, agricultural technique and medical aids were introduced to improve living conditions. Indigenous people were encouraged to acquire scientific knowledge and to use scientific techniques in their daily life and production. Some people inhabiting the uplands were transferred to lower valleys and foothill belts.

Traditional belief and cultures including TEK as just described were considered to be superstitions (which meant blind worship based on the prevailing culture at that time). Indigenous people were forced to abandon such “superstitions.” The coex­istence between humans and elephants was broken.

The news of finding wild elephants encouraged some zoos in China to capture wild elephants in Xishuangbanna. During 1972-1973, an armed “capturing ele­phant” team organized and approved by government, with the assistance of local people, caught wild elephants in forests of Mengyang sub-reserve. They caught a young elephant at the cost of shooting five elephants to death and injuring four other elephants. In March 2011, we interviewed adult villagers who participated in the “capturing elephant” event. They said that the capturing was only known to several local government cadres and villagers, being afraid of protests from indigenous people. They recollected many elephant corpses remained in the forests because of inexact doses of anesthetic and a shooting rampage by a soldier in self-defense. Later, a “three-leg elephant,” who fled from the poaching, roamed in the wilderness and attacked people who came close to it (Fig. 10.3).

People involved in the capturing got rewards from the team instead of punish­ment from the Gods, which told the indigenous people that the majesty of their Gods was so limited. The traditional beliefs and superstitions in the indigenous people’s minds collapsed. Some local people began to hunt wild elephants. By 1985, 15 wild elephants had been killed by local people (Chen et al. 2006) and nine people were injured by the “three-leg elephant” (Chen 2005).

Human-elephant conflicts occurred. Humans became big and powerful in the people’s spiritual world and daily life. International illegal elephant poaching took place in Xishuangbanna. During 1991-1995, several criminal groups from China and Laos sneaked into the forests and killed 30 elephants (Chen et al. 2006).

By 2010, the traditional culture of adoring the wild elephant became weak but elephant-related problems became a crisis. Of the 412 interviewees, 19.7 % hated wild elephants and 10.7 % liked them. Many (66.0 %) of these people indicated they did not like wild elephants because of the serious elephant-related problems that happened annually. Most of them (95.9 %) did not like to coexist with wild elephants (Table 10.3).