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Elephant diplomacy: mitigating human elephant conflict (HEC)

Principal Supervisor: Dr J. Simon Rofe (SOAS)

Co-supervisor: Dr Ayona Silva-Fletcher (RVC)

The Asian elephant is categorised as an ‘endangered’ species in the Red List of the World Conservation Union (IUCN, 2008: The habitat of the wild Asian elephant population is distributed across 13 nation states (Bangladesh, Bhutan, Cambodia, China, India, Indonesia, Laos PDR, Malaysia, Myanmar, Nepal, Sri Lanka, Thailand, Vietnam) and at present the wild population is estimated to be between 39,000 – 44,000 (Fernando & Pastorini 2011). Large territories (range) containing adequate food and water resources are required to successfully maintain populations of wild elephants. Due to human population growth and consequent draw on natural resources, these territories are fundamentally challenged. The result is increased contact and violent conflict between humans and elephants leading to an alarming decrease in the Asian elephant population.

Despite the enormous importance of elephants as a cultural and religious symbol in Asia, human-elephant conflict (HEC) is resulting in death and injuries to both human and elephant populations. The incidence and severity of conflict between the two is escalating in all Asian elephant range countries. It is estimated that up to 400 -500 elephants are killed each year due to HEC.

Diplomacy’s express purpose is to address conflict: to work to its avoidance and to manage its resolution, and it rests on the three pillars of Communication, Representation and Negotiation (Holmes/Rofe, 2016). Traditionally diplomacy has focused on relationships between nation states, but it increasingly incorporates a range of non-state actors, including consideration of natural and physical environment. A grounded and nuanced understanding of diplomacy, at the nexus of traditional understandings such as Richelieu’s Political Testament (1680), and Harald Nicolson’s Peacemaking 1919 (1933), with ‘new’ approaches from scholars such as Jan Melissen and Paul Sharp, provides an explanatory framework to comprehend HEC.

Sri Lanka provides an excellent case study in this project. Sri Lanka has the highest density of elephants in Asia: one elephant per 10 km2. Killing elephants for ivory poaching is very low as the Sri Lankan sub species has less than 2% tuskers. Equally, HEC is a particularly severe problem in Sri Lanka, which is home to 10% of the wild Asian elephant population, but with only 2% of the range available for elephants in the Asian region (Perera 2009). Agriculture is increasingly encroaching on land areas inhabited by elephants who, deprived of their natural habitat in turn raid farms and destroy or consume agricultural crops. Escalating matters, enraged farmers then ‘wage war’ on elephants; illustrating the need for diplomatic solutions. On average, in this area, HEC causes the deaths of 200 elephants and 70-80 humans each year (Perera 2009; DWC, Sri Lanka 2015).

A considerable amount of human and economic resources have been spent to try and address HEC in Sri Lanka and other parts of Asia. Governments have been involved in providing resources and education to village communities about methods to reduce HEC. The methods used to minimise HEC include; crop diversification by cultivating plant species that are not favoured by elephants; alternative economic activities that are not prone to damage by elephants and relocation of either elephants or humans to separate and/or disperse the two populations (Perera 2009). There has been some isolated success but despite considerable efforts, HEC is still escalating.

The relative failure of government programmes to reduce HEC is not well understood; reflecting broader issues of governance in Sri Lanka which an understanding of diplomacy can address. One or more of the following may cause the failure:

i)    the promotion of ineffective methods that do not account for elephant behaviours

ii)   the inapplicability of programmes to local conditions

iii)  the failure of village communities to understand and implement the proposed solutions from ‘outside’ sources including hostility to ideas and solutions promoted by national government.

Candidate Requirements:

-         A commitment to undertake multi-disciplinary research in areas of global studies.

-         An appreciation of the interdisciplinary nature of the project at hand.

-         A 2:1 degree in relevant subject to the project.

-         Above and beyond anything else, enthusiasm and dedication to the cause.

Project Context: This interdisciplinary project will establish much needed research input into the diplomacy of addressing Human Elephant Conflict HEC in the Asian Elephant Network. There is great urgency to do this work now, as it is a matter of life and death for elephants and humans.

The research aims of CISD are to deliver interdisciplinary understanding of key concepts, theories and debates with effective understanding of ‘practice’ that go beyond the traditional Western-centric approach. SOAS’s regional network is well established in Sri Lanka and the project would draw on colleagues across the School CISD’s interdisciplinary core makes it the prime location for this research to take place in conjunction to work with the expertise of Dr Ayona Sylva-Fletcher and the RVC to contribute to this burning issue in global Elephant welfare. Importantly, alongside the lead supervisor’s expertise in diplomacy, he has considerable experience in supervising to timely completion sponsored PhD Students

CISD’s Global Studies PhD programme SOAS provides the perfect forum for research into a HEC. Alongside fellow PhD students and research-active scholars, this studentship will participate in a full suite of research training seminars during their first year including access to the resources within the Bloomsbury Postgraduate Network, to prepare them for their field work in Sri Lanka. Included in their training will be the award winning Understanding Research Methods MOOC Understanding Research Methods authored by Rofe (with SOAS colleague Yenn Lee), the Global Diplomacy MOOC Global Diplomacy: Diplomacy in the Modern World – augmented by bespoke e-resources (Rofe, 2011 & 2016), and full use of the VLE.

The LIVE centre at the RVC has been developing relevant research methodologies for the farming sector and will offer training in participatory research with village communities.

This project is the result of discussion regarding HEC and Diplomacy brought about by the lead and collaborating supervisor and between SOAS and the RVC.

An interdisciplinary approach is essential to solve problems such as HEC and will support the development of future externally funded collaborations seeking money from the private and public sectors. This thesis proposal has been designed to be generative in two senses. To provide recommendations to: policy makers in the resolution of HEC and to reform the thinking of scientists involved in HEC research to value the social sciences dimension. For this reason, the supervisory team will establish a website to disseminate emerging findings to all members of the Bloomsbury college group.

The studentship is for a duration of 3 years and will cover course fees (at the usual level for UK and EU studentships) and a student stipend.

Applicants from non-EU countries may apply for this project but will be required to meet the additional costs of overseas fees from other sources. The difference between overseas fees (£15,990) and UK/EU fees (£4,191) for a full-time research degree is £11,799 for 2017-18.

Key References:

[1] Fernando, & Pastorini, 2011, Range-wide Status of Asian Elephants, 35, pp.15–20.

[2] Holmes, Alison & Rofe, J. Simon, 2016, Global Diplomacy: Theories, Types and Models.Colorado: Westview.

[3] Perera, B.M.A.O., 2009, The Human-Elephant Conflict, 30, pp.41–52.

[4] Paul Sharp, 2009, Diplomatic Theory of International Relations, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Further details about the project may be obtained from:

Principal Supervisor: Dr J. Simon Rofe (

Co-supervisor: Dr Ayona Silva-Fletcher (

Further information about PhDs in the Centre for International Studies and Diplomacy is available here:

Candidates wishing to apply for this fully funded three-year, full-time PhD studentship starting September 2017 must complete both an admissions application and a studentship application. These are separate processes.

Applicants must submit a complete online application for admission (this includes the submission of acceptable references) as soon as possible and no later than the studentship deadline (17:00 UK time, 28 February 2017).

Application forms and details about how to apply are available from:

STEP 1: Admissions Application

Apply for the MPhil/PhD: Global Studies using SOAS’s online admissions form. See for information and ‘Apply Online’ link.

Further guidance for applying for admission to the MPhil/PhD programme is available at

IMPORTANT: Please state in the admissions application that you wish to be considered for the Bloomsbury Colleges PhD Studentship, use the title of the studentship (Elephant Diplomacy: Mitigating Human Elephant Conflict, HEC) as your Research Proposal Title and state Dr J. Simon Rofe as your Proposed Supervisor.

Use your Supporting Statement to explain why you are motivated to apply for this particular project, and what skills and experience you will bring to the project. In your 2,000 word Research Proposal please respond to the project description and elaborate on how you would approach the project theoretically and methodologically based on your previous academic training and experience.

STEP 2: Studentship Application

Apply for the Bloomsbury Colleges Studentship by completing and submitting the on-line studentship application form ( by no later than 28 February 2017 (17:00 UK time)

For any queries regarding the studentship application procedure, please email:

Further details about the project may be obtained from:

Principal Supervisor: Dr J. Simon Rofe ( It is recommended that candidates interested in applying for this studentship contact Dr J Simon Rofe prior to completing the application forms.

Closing date for application is:

28 February 2017 (17.00 UK time)