On the Trails of Free-Roaming Elephants

Human-Elephant Mobility and History across the Indo-Myanmar Highlands

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Paul G. Keil Czech Academy of Sciences, Czechia keil@eu.cas.cz

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Humans and elephants have historically shared the forested mountain ranges of Zomia, a geography defined by the regular movement of people and an ecology shaped by the movement of its elephant population. This article will examine how free-roaming elephant pathways facilitated human mobility in the highlands defining the Indo-Myanmar border. It will analyze the more-than-human agency that emerges when following elephant trails and the varying role this forest infrastructure might have played in the social and political history of the region. The article will explore two historical examples. First, the migration of a Lisu community in Upper Myanmar who utilized elephant paths to navigate their passage. Second, how the British Empire exploited a network of elephant-human tracks to subjugate the peoples living in Mizoram, northeast India. In these regions the patterns of migration, history of colonization, and identities and practices of communities must be understood in relation to wild elephants.

Contributor Notes

Paul G. Keil is a postdoctoral researcher at the Department of Ecological Anthropology, Institute of Ethnology, Czech Academy of Sciences. Keil received his PhD in social anthropology studying human-elephant relations in northeast India and is currently conducting his postdoctoral research on hunting and feral animals in Australia. Email: keil@eu.cas.cz

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Interdisciplinary Journal of Mobility Studies