ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

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Culture or Conflict?

On Human–Elephant Relations

Conflict, Negotiation, and Coexistence: Rethinking Human–Elephant Relations in South Asia edited by Piers Locke and Jane Buckingham, New Delhi: Oxford University Press, 2016; pp xiii + 366, 995.


What is an elephant? Is it a colle­ction of ideas? Is it an amalgamation of human expectations towards an animal, attributed simultaneously with qualities of friendliness, intelligence, and holiness? Or is an elephant a wild, unknowable creature that routinely transgresses human-drawn boundaries? More importantly, should elephants be understood through anthropomorphic qualities of intelligence or comprehension, or viewed as distinctly separate?

In Conflict, Negotiation, and Coexistence: Rethinking Human–Elephant Relations in South Asia, the last question assumes the most significance. The book makes an attempt to understand not just how we shape elephant behaviour, but rather how elephants shape us. Piers Locke favours the words “free-roaming elephant” rather than “wild elephant,” in an effort to explain that elephants move in paths that are heavily influenced by human presence and impact. In trying to create an “ethno-elephantology,” the authors ask difficult questions. These questions concern not just why elephants cannot be controlled by man, but why both species should be looked at as co-evolving actors—with elephants as distinctly subjective agents deserving of individual biographies.

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Updated On : 23rd Jul, 2018
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