Human-Animal Conflicts in Kerala: Elephants and Ecological Modernity on the Agrarian Frontier in South India


This article argues that in contemporary Wayanad in Kerala, southern India, human-animal relations are embedded in a history of ecological modernity composed of three modes of encounter between agrarian change (capitalist settler agriculture) and forest conservation (state-led and globalizing). It suggests that the notions of “frontier,” “fortress,” and (precarious) “conviviality” best capture the historical and emerging environmental relations in this environment of crisis. Historical ethnography of elephant encounters in a changing landscape is used to illustrate the notion of a regional ecological modernity, a notion that if fully elaborated ethnographically will need to include further discussions of tourism, neoliberal agriculture (and its crisis), the Adivasi struggle and forest rights, and the role of the state in conservation and development, as well as a consideration of environmental and anti-environmental movements.