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What is Ethnoelephantology? This new article provides an answer


This new article suggests an integrated, interdisciplinary approach to the study of human-elephant relations is emerging. It seeks to define the field of Ethnoelephantology in terms of the social and cognitive similarities between humans and elephants, the myriad ways in which human and elephant lives and landscapes are intertwined, and the combination of methodological perspectives from the social and the natural sciences. It explores conflict and coexistence in human-elephant relations through issues of captive elephant management, wild elephant conservation, and human-elephant conflict, reviewing cutting-edge research emerging from anthropology, geography, and history.

Locke, P. 2013. ‘Explorations in Ethnoelephantology: Social, Historical, and Ecological Intersections between Asian Elephants and Humans’ . Environment and Society: Advances in Research. 4, 79-97.


Humans and elephants have lived together and shared space together in diverse ways for millennia. The intersections between these thinking and feeling species have been differently explored, for different reasons, by disciplines across the sciences, humanities, and social sciences. Such disciplinary divisions, predicated on oppositions of human-animal and nature-culture, are integral to the configuration of modernist thought. However, posthumanist and biocultural thinking questions the underlying epistemological conventions, thereby opening up interdisciplinary possibilities for human-animal studies. In relation to issues of conflict and coexistence, this article charts the emergence of an interdisciplinary research program and discursive space for human-elephant intersections under the rubric of ethnoelephantology. Recognizing continuities between the sentient and affective lifeworlds of humans and elephants, the mutual entanglements of their social, historical, and ecological relations, and the relevance of combining social and natural science methodologies, the article surveys recent research from anthropology, history, and geography that exemplifies this new approach.

Download this article from Explorations in Ethnoelephantology


The story of Babul, recovering from the attack of a wild male, from the Contact Zones blog

Here are a couple of Paul Kiel’s recent online field reports about an injured male called Babul, revealing some important insights about relations between wild and captive elephants sharing the same space, and about mahouts’ understanding of the ways that wild elephants respond to elephants who live with humans.


See: Leg Injuries, elephant leg braces and elephant management

and: Scent of a human-elephant

Symposium on Human-Elephant Relations in South and Southeast Asia

Human-Animal Symposium poster-JPEG

On May 7 & 8, at the University of Canterbury, New Zealand, an international group of researchers from across the humanities, social sciences, and natural sciences met to present papers and discuss a variety of connected issues in human-elephant relations. The event featured anthropologists, ecologists, geographers, historians, political scientists, Sanskritists, zoologists, and zoo elephant experts from Australia, France, Germany, India, New Zealand, Sri Lanka, UK, and USA.

The symposium was concerned with ways of theorizing the human-elephant nexus, with human-elephant histories, with ethnographies of captive elephant management, with elephant welfare, and with conflict and coexistence in elephant conservation. The New Zealand news media were somewhat curious as to why such an event should be occurring in the Land of the Long White Cloud, but the charismatic qualities of a species so very entangled with human activity ensured a healthy interest from the public. The New Zealand South Asia Centre (NZSAC) and the School of Social and Political Sciences (SAPS) were honoured to host such a dynamic mix of senior, world-class and junior, up-and-coming researchers. The event proved to be intimate and congenial, with compelling presentations and vibrant discussion. As such an unusually interdisciplinary meeting, participants remarked upon the refreshing opportunity to learn from colleagues with differing disciplinary expertise. New academic friendships were made, the prospect of new collaborations forged, and plans to publish the papers agreed upon. One participant even asked when and where the next version of this event would occur!

A full conference report will be posted on this blog soon. See the Symposium Programme with abstracts

University of Canterbury Media Releases

Human-elephant conflict to feature in conference

Expert to talk about captive elephants

Information on the doctoral thesis of Nicolas Laine at the University of Paris, Nanterre

Nicolas is based at the Laboratory of Comparative Ethnology and Sociology, and his doctoral thesis is titled: “Living with elephants: Coexistence, sociability and cooperation between elephants and the Khamti in Arunachel Pradesh, Northeast India”Laine-elephant1_web

Human Elephant (no) Conflict

Researcher Tarsh Thekaekara reports on a local community assisting an elephant that had strayed into their territory


Ramesh- photo by Tarsh Thekeakara

Symposium on Human Elephant Relations in South Asia

Human-Elephant Relations in South Asia: A Multidisciplinary Symposium

Latest News (21 March)- The Symposium has now expanded to include papers on captive elephant management in Southeast Asia, elephants in zoos, and cloning extinct woolly mammoths. The University of Canterbury has issued a press release (see: and it is already receiving further coverage)

Chitwan Elephants (small)


May 7 and 8 2013, School of Social and Political Sciences (SAPS), and the New Zealand South Asia Center (NZSAC), University of Canterbury

Convenors: Dr. Piers Locke (piers dot locke at canterbury dot ac dot nz) and Dr. Jane Buckingham (jane dot buckingham at canterbury dot ac dot nz)

The relationship between humans and elephants in South Asia is especially complex, multidimensional, and longstanding. Variously representing weapons of war, emblems of prestige, symbols of divinity, objects of entertainment, icons of conservation, commodities for exchange, vehicles for labour, and more, the elephant is an animal entangled with human enterprises of power, wealth, worship, pleasure, and preservation. The human-elephant nexus encompasses a diversity of meanings, purposes, and concerns through time and space. As a result, it is a relationship explored across a disparate mix of disciplines, reflecting a variety of interests and approaches. However, it is becoming increasingly clear that the human-elephant relationship does not merely afford accounts from a multitude of disciplinary perspectives, but that its manifold complexity encourages interdisciplinary engagement. As more work emerges traversing and challenging disciplinary boundaries, the need for an integrated discursive space becomes ever more apparent. Under the rubric of ethnoelephantology, this symposium is dedicated to advancing discussion by taking a symmetrical approach to the analysis of human and elephant, exploring the social, historical, and ecological mutualities of these companion species.

see also:

Ethnozoology of Human Elephant Relations

Recent essay by Kierin Mackenzie and Piers Locke on human elephant relations.
Sheparding Lakshmi Kali and newborn calf

Sheparding Lakshmi Kali and newborn calf