Most conflict occurs when elephants stray into human settlements in search of food. They often damage crops and may injure or kill people, which can lead to the retaliatory killing of elephants.
The report, Common Ground, found the most serious conflict and harm to both human communities and elephants resulted from unplanned and unregulated development. In Namibia, elephant-related conflict costs communal farmers around US$1 million a year, while in some Nepalese communities it can result in the loss of up to a quarter of the household incomes of poor farming families.
"The report shows we can go from lose-lose to win-win for both humans and wildlife, with the clearest gains coming from the implementation of effective land-use planning aimed at reducing the potential for conflict," said Dr Susan Lieberman, WWF International's Species Programme Director.
For instance, the report recommends that agricultural developments are established as far away from wildlife habitat as possible.
In Namibia, levels of crop damage were closely related to the distance between farms and wildlife areas, with farms immediately adjacent to unfenced wildlife habitat being "a drain on the national economy". Conflict between humans and wildlife in just one region of Namibia was estimated as causing annual losses of US$700,000 to the national economy.
The report also found that an effective way to manage conflict between humans and wildlife was to give rights to a percentage of income generated from wildlife, primarily through tourism, to local communities – thus enabling such communities to benefit from neighbouring wildlife. Economic analysis in Namibia demonstrated that these communities were able to generate more income from wildlife than they suffered from economic losses caused by wildlife. In Nepal, communities that received benefits from wildlife and wildlife habitat showed a much greater tolerance towards elephants than communities that received no benefits.
Other important measures highlighted in the report that help reduce conflict include planting crops that are less appealing to elephants, or those that actively deter elephants.
"Local communities can benefit economically and coexist peacefully with wildlife," said Dr Lieberman. "What we demonstrate here is that proper planning to meet the needs of wildlife and the needs of communities is the key to reducing deaths, injuries and economic losses from human-wildlife conflict."