NZCHAS - Human-Elephant Relations

Human-Elephant Relations

Dr Piers Locke conducts historical and ethnographic research on captive elephant management, biodiversity conservation, ecotourism, and human-elephant conflict, mainly in Nepal and Sri Lanka. He is currently writing a monograph about his fieldwork in the elephant stables of the Chitwan National Park, Nepal, where he apprenticed as an elephant handler. This work is concerned with challenging the humanist bias of ethnography, with the possibility of nonhuman personhood, and with presenting the elephant stable as an institutional space of interspecies cohabitation. It documents apprenticeship learning, intimate interspecies relations, and elephant training as a rite of passage for both humans and elephants (which also features in his documentary film Servants of Ganesh). It also explores the coextensive yet variably emphasized states of animality, personhood, and divinity that handlers attribute to their elephants, as well as the integral role elephants play in protected area management and local tourist economies.

 Piers is also working on an edited volume about human-elephant relations in South Asia, featuring contributions from anthropologists, conservation biologists, historians, geographers, political scientists, and Sanskritists, deriving from an international symposium he convened at the University of Canterbury in 2013. His most recent project concerns the historical photography of human-elephant relations in colonial-era South Asia, which features elephant capture operations in India, elephant-back hunts in Nepal, elephants in pomp and pageantry in India, and religious elephant parades in Sri Lanka.

 Piers teaches on human-animal relations in ANTH213/313 Environment, Development and Disaster, and ANTH410 Multuspecies Anthropology: Other Species in Human Life.

He also currently supervises several research students with human-animal themed research.

Paul Kiel is working on shared space and interactive practice concerning humans and elephants in Assam, India.

Samantha Eason is working on elephant volunteer tourism and social media in Thailand.

Raj Skekhar Aich is working on photographic practices, aesthetic value and human-elephant relations in Africa and Asia.