ABS 2022
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Participatory mental models reveal complex drivers and consequences of human-elephant interactions  
Lynn Von Hagen1, Steven Gray2, Christopher Lepczyk1. 1Auburn University, Auburn, AL, United States; 2Michigan State University, Lansing, MI, United States

Interactions between African elephants and people compromise human livelihoods and elephant conservation. Elephants modify foraging behavior to find crops or water and thereby enter farms. Access to effective mitigation for farmers is compromised by social and economic inequities which may not be considered in conservation planning. To explore unaddressed variables of this issue, we conducted participatory modeling sessions in six villages in Southeastern Kenya. Mental models using fuzzy-logic cognitive mapping of perceptions of human-elephant conflict were co-created with farmers. We used Mental Modeler software to create and quantitatively compare models from each village. Across all villages, 14 variables were common with impact to income and feelings of security having high centrality scores. Multiple variables emerged that are underrepresented in the literature such as infrastructure, education on elephant behavior, soil compaction, and child labor. Understanding the drivers of these interactions and the cascading consequences for farmers is important for informing conservation programs which address human livelihoods and wildlife conservation.