Elephants as actors in the political ecology of human–elephant conflict

09 May 2018

This paper examines the agency of African elephants as important actors in the political ecology of human-elephant conflict, and in shaping the politics of land in post-colonial Kenya. The paper is based on field research in Laikipia, northern Kenya. It considers the role of elephants, with their size, sagacity, hunger, mobility and complex interactions with people, as powerful actors in shared landscapes, and therefore in the politics surrounding their own conservation. The paper uses spatial data and interviews to explore elephant behaviour and movements through the landscape and their interactions with people, and explore the way in which those interactions affect the separation of ‘animal spaces’ set aside for conservation and the ‘beastly places’ of smallholder farming and crop-raiding, and the conflict and transgressions involved when elephants cross from one to the other. The elephant is a lively actor in the inter-species power play of Laikipia, and the politics of conservation and of land. A mutually respectful multispecies politics in northern Kenya demands a clear understanding and acceptance of the needs of elephants.