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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


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: