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A quantitative assessment of the indirect impacts of human-elephant conflict_PONE-D-20-40690.csv

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Human­­­-wildlife conflict has direct and indirect consequences for human communities. Understanding how both types of conflict affect communities is crucial to developing comprehensive and sustainable mitigation strategies. We conducted an interview survey of 381 participants in two rural areas in Myanmar where communities were exposed to human-elephant conflict (HEC). In addition to documenting and quantifying the types of direct and indirect impacts experienced by participants, we evaluated how HEC influences people’s attitudes towards elephant conservation. We assessed interviewee’s experience with and knowledge of elephants and human-elephant conflict (HEC), and their beliefs about HEC and perceptions on best practices for deterring HEC. For people who had experienced direct impacts (i.e., property damage, personal injury, death of a family member) or were actively engaging in conflict mitigation (i.e., crop guarding), we asked about frequency and severity of associated indirect impacts. We also asked questions to better understand people’s perceptions relative to indirect impacts, general experiences with various indirect impacts, and attitudes towards elephant conservation. This work was conducted under a Memorandum of Understanding between the Smithsonian Institution and the Myanmar government (signed 2014).


The questionnaire was a mix of open-ended, yes/no, and 5-point Likert scale questions. For the Likert questions, we employed visual aids to assist the respondents in answering using the Likert scale. We encouraged participants to complete the entire survey, however, some participants declined to respond to individual questions. We pre-tested our questionnaire with Clemson University undergraduate students role-playing typical community member identities (e.g., farmer, grocer, daily laborer) and responding to the questionnaire. Once the questionnaire was finalized, it was translated into Burmese (Myanmar), and the translation was checked for accuracy by bilingual Myanmar team members who speak Burmese and English fluently. Our research teams were composed of Myanmar staff members from local environmental NGOs. Prior to implementation, the teams participated in a half-day training where they reviewed the questionnaire, practiced completing the form, and received instruction on avoiding biasing respondent answers by reading the questions exactly as written and separating participants as much as possible.

Survey implementation

Our questionnaire was administered in Burmese in an in-person, oral interview format to adult male and female respondents from two rural areas of Myanmar: Bago-Yangon (24 villages), and Ayeyarwady (20 villages). These areas were chosen because of their location within the elephant range, and the presence of high HEC. To maximize data collection, villages were selected based on their ease of access using available transportation, primarily bus or motorbike. Our data collection occurred between May – April 2017 and December 2018. At each village, the interviewer met with the village leader to ask permission to survey the community members. From that location, the interviewer approached the nearest residence to request an interview with an adult inhabitant. If no adults were present, or if the residents did not wish to participate, the interviewer moved to the next proximate house and every subsequent house until a willing participant was found. Once the interviewer had completed an interview, they skipped the next house and approached the second home for participation. Both the questionnaire and the study design were approved independently by the Smithsonian and Clemson University Institutional Review Boards (HS16051 and IRB2014-187, respectively) prior to the start of the study.

Usage Notes

Per our IRB, which requires that participants' anonymity be preserved, we have separated demographic information that could identify individuals and randomized the order of the associated answers. We also removed information referencing unique events of HEC (e.g., fatalities, injuries) that could be linked back to specific individuals. For more information, please contact Christie Sampson (csampso@g.clemson.edu).


US Fish and Wildlife Service Asian Elephant Conservation Fund , Award: #ASE1648, #F19AP00779