Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Geography and Anthropology

Document Type



This dissertation provides a historical context for socio-ecological relationships in Tsavo, Kenya by focusing on the interaction between elephants and people in the landscape. A better understanding of the relationship between elephants and people in the Tsavo landscape promotes opportunities for better policy outcomes. The dissertation engages with the analytical approach of political ecology, which has enabled it to provide a more nuanced understanding of the relationship between elephants and people in Tsavo. Apolitical accounts of human-elephant conflicts in Tsavo do not adequately address the colonial roots of human-elephant conflicts or their consequences for local livelihoods. This dissertation demonstrates how landscape transformations in Tsavo have altered the relationship between people and elephants such that local communities now perceive elephants as having political, economic and land-use advantage over humans. Due to the special protection they enjoy from the state, elephants in Tsavo are now the subject of “everyday acts of resistance” by local people. This study drew upon archival and published sources, multi-sited ethnography and qualitative research methods to examine the relationship between people and elephants, during the precolonial, colonial and post-colonial periods in Kenya. Field work for this project involved over 200 local participants drawn from eighteen villages that are adjacent to Tsavo East, Tsavo West and Chyulu Hills National Parks in Kenya. Semi-structured and unstructured interviews, focus-group discussions, ethnographic observation, and transect walks with village residents were conducted to gain local views on elephants and livelihood conditions. This study advances Community Based Conservation (CBC) strategies that support collaborative learning about local places and people’s livelihood conditions before implementing new conservation agendas. Through an Adaptive Collaborative Management approach, this study contributes to literature on elephant conservation by exploring how local knowledge can be included in co-management plans between local people and conservation authorities. It demonstrates that oral histories of living elders among the Kamba, Taveta, Taita, Waata, Orma,and Maasai are a fundamental resource for ACM initiatives and can inspire adaptive management solutions in Tsavo. The study concludes that Community Based Natural Resource Management (CBNRM) initiatives need to be adopted to reconcile rural development and elephant conservation needs in the Tsavo region.



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Committee Chair

Sluyter, Andrew