February 9, 2023: IRES Faculty Seminar with Sumeet Gulati

The elephant in the room: forest clearing and fatal human elephant conflict in India

Time: 12:30pm to 1:20pm

Location: Beaty Museum Theatre (2212 Main Mall)

View video here.

Talk summary:

Human Elephant Conflict (HEC) is the high impact component of human-wildlife conflict in India. It involves large scale crop and property damage, and is tragically associated with approximately 500 human and 150 elephant fatalities every year. It has been theorized that the frequency, intensity, and the outcome of interactions between humans and elephants in India is influenced by anthropogenic degradation, fragmentation and destruction of elephant habitat. However, an empirical relationship has not been formally established. We estimate a causal relationship between forest clearing for infrastructure development, and media reports of fatal HEC. We also demonstrate the potential of using media reports to analyze spatial and temporal trends in human-wildlife conflict, especially in the face of severely difficult to obtain official data on HEC. Preliminary results indicate that if the Government of India approves 43 squared kilometres of linear deforestation in an elephant district over the previous five years, there is an additional human fatality in the current year. The effect of nonlinear infrastructure development on fatalities due to HEC is weaker, where the approval of 122 squared kilometres of nonlinear deforestation over the previous five years leads to an additional human fatality. These results are robust to a broad degree of variation across specifications. Our estimate contributes to an accurate quantification of the cost of infrastructure-driven deforestation in countries like India. While it has been demonstrated that human casualties are the most significant component of the cost of human-wildlife conflict in India, these costs are not typically included in cost-benefit analyses of infrastructure projects in India. Rather, as per 2017 Government of India guidelines, such calculations focus on the costs that arise from a loss of ecosystem services, resettlements, infrastructure diversion and habitat fragmentation. These costs are calculated based on the Net Present Value (NPV) of forests, a measure which was last calculated in 2008 and has not been meaningfully revised since. Understanding the cost of forest clearing is also important given the policy context of a stated Government of India decision to fast track environmental approvals for forest clearance since 2014. Our estimates will help quantify the impact of this policy change. 

Dr. Sumeet Gulati, Professor in Food and Resource Economics, Faculty of Land and Food Systems


Sumeet Gulati is Professor in Food and Resource Economics, in the faculty of Land and Food Systems, at the University of British Columbia.  His research spans two main themes: 1) the economics of wildlife conservation, and 2) the economics of urban transportation. Currently, he is most interested in the economics of conservation. Sumeet is focusing on human wildlife conflict in India and Canada. All his projects in conservation economics are listed at the Wildlife and Conservation Economics Laboratory.