TitleHuman–elephant conflict mitigation as a public good: what determines fence maintenance?
Publication TypeJournal Article
Year of Publication2022
AuthorsKamdar A, Baishya HKumar, Nagendra H, Ratnam J, Smith D, Sekar N
JournalEcology and Society
Date Published2022

Negative interactions between humans and elephants are known to have serious consequences, resulting in loss of life and deterioration in the quality of life for both species. Reducing human–elephant conflicts (HEC) is essential for elephant conservation as well as social justice. Non-lethal electric fences placed around villages or communities are a widely used intervention to mitigate HEC. Such barriers act as non-excludable and non-subtractable resources—i.e., public goods—that must be maintained collectively by beneficiaries or the State. Despite being fairly effective when well maintained, most such fences in northeast India are poorly maintained. This leads to our central question: why are some fences well maintained and others poorly maintained? We studied 19 such fences using qualitative comparative analysis, Ostrom's social-ecological systems framework, and a grounded theory approach, incorporating qualitative social science tools. We found that, contrary to our hypothesis, the functionality of fences cannot be predicted based on the design of the fence, whether or not the community made cash payments, or ethnic homogeneity or leadership in the village. Instead, we found there are three potential pathways of maintenance: (1) a community maintainer, (2) the community self-organizes, and (3) the Forest Department. Maintenance occurs when there is a congruence between perceived costs and benefits for the entity responsible for fence maintenance. These costs and benefits are diverse, including not just material benefits but intangibles like goodwill, sense of safety, social standing, and a feeling of fairness. We highlight these factors and provide recommendations for practitioners and policy.