Understanding behavior of elephants in human-dominated landscapes can facilitate creation of management tools for conflict resolution and help foster human-elephant coexistence. We studied behavior of Asian elephants (Elephas maximus) in the Valparai plateau, a 220 km² landscape matrix of rainforest fragments, tea, coffee, and Eucalyptus plantations in the Anamalai Hills of the Western Ghats of India. We studied the nearest neighbor distance among elephants within the herd and their feeding behavior in habitat mosaics. We also recorded reactions of elephants to human proximity and number of people in the vicinity. We employed scan sampling for data collection. Feeding by elephants was lowest in open canopy habitat of tea, and it gradually increased in canopy covered plantations of coffee and Eucalyptus and in densely covered natural vegetation. Vigilance behavior of elephants was lowest in forest fragments and riverine vegetation as they could avoid encountering humans. This behavior peaked in tea plantations due to intense human activity there. Elephants maintained closer inter-individual distances in tea and this distance gradually increased in canopy habitats of coffee, Eucalyptus and natural vegetation. More humans in the vicinity and closer proximity to elephants reduced feeding and increased agitation in elephants, while proximity to settlements did not have any influence. We, therefore, suggest that protection and non-conversion of canopy habitats, restoration of rivers with native species, and maintaining distance from elephants would foster normal activities of elephants and help promote human-elephant coexistence in such landscapes.
Wildlife Biology in Practice 6: 69-80.