Elephant Conservation with Antoinette van de Water

Elephant conservation with Antoinette van de Water

Do you believe that elephants should have a right to exist, regardless of their value to humans? Do you believe that an elephant that has caused damage to your property should have a right to exist? For many people living in areas where we can still find wild elephants, the answer to the latter question is often: No.

Antoinette van de Water, elephant conservationist and founder of Bring The Elephant Home (BTEH), travelled to Wageningen on September 28th, to talk about how her battle to conserve elephants around the world became increasingly focussed on people, in an event jointly hosted with FFN Academy.

In a world where humans and animals share land, interactions and therewith conflict, are prone to arise. In regions such as Kuiburi National Park, Thailand, Human-Elephant Conflict (HEC) is high, with elephants often consuming and destroying local crops, and sometimes even killing farmers when both parties come too close to one another – which increasingly happens as there is less and less land to share. Antoinette discusses in what ways BTEH is trying to turn conflict into human-elephant coexistence, in an aim to contribute to a world where people and elephants can live in harmony.

Antoinette taught us how the traditional fence, separating people from nature, causes the value chain to be broken: there is no incentive for local people to prioritise nature as a resource, relative to other land-uses. Her newly developed TUSKER framework bridges the gap between on-the-ground conservation practise and societal values, aspirations, and rights. A journey to reconcile conservation with social values.

In an engaging lecture, Antoinette talks about the values of elephants, 100 of them (and still counting). We value elephants not only economically through direct and marketable roles, such as through hunting and ivory trade, but elephants likewise have intrinsic and societal value. They are important culturally and spiritually, and from an ecological point of view they are important ecosystem engineers. We briefly touched upon legal non-human rights and personhood, by discussing the cases of elephants Happy and Kaavan. From their, and Antoinette’s story, it is clear that we need to change our way of thinking. We need to recognise that elephants have value beyond the economic opportunities. Elephants can contribute to sustainable development, and we will move towards a more just, equal and sustainable world if we integrate conservation strategies and stop separating people from nature.

You can (re)watch the lecture below or via this link.

At the end of the evening we turned to the conservation side of the story, by contributing to an elephant identification project based on SEEK codes (System for Elephant Ear-pattern Knowledge). If you would like to contribute to this project, or to the work of Antoinette and Bring The Elephant Home in general, please get in touch via their website www.bring-the-elephant-home.org where you can also subscribe to BTEH’s newsletter.

By Janneke Troost and Ignas Heitkönig