Asian elephants today are defined through the lens of culture, conflict, economics, and troubled conservation. This photo essay is an attempt to examine the work of researchers studying Asian elephants to learn how they may successfully live with humans.

Nearly 60% of Asian elephants live outside of national parks, close to human communities, and every year more and more of their natural habitat is lost. Asia has been developing at great speed, but very little thought has been given to the question of the peaceful coexistence of humans and elephants. In countries such as Sri Lanka, there has been a tremendous focus on the agricultural sector. For example, development agencies have built dams without conducting any prior environmental impact assessments, and crops have been planted on land adjacent to elephant habitat areas. A similar pattern can be seen across Asia with development at any cost, growth for humans, and not a thought for the animals. As a result, hundreds of elephants die every year in human-elephant conflict, and many humans are maimed and killed. Yet elephants play a fundamental, centuries-old role in religious practices, plus a vital role in the tourist industry. For researchers, a greater understanding of the elephant could mitigate much of the conflict playing out today.