Elephant rights: can animals have stronger claims to land than people?

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  • Wednesday 15 March : 10:03

Riders compete on the frozen Yenisei River during the 47th Ice Derby amateur horse race near the settlement of Novosyolovo, south of the Siberian city of Krasnoyarsk, Russia March 11, 2017. Picture taken March 11, 2017. REUTERS/Ilya Naymushin

The green choice? Man or beast? - and all the best land and property rights stories from across the web

When it comes to deciding who owns the ground beneath our feet, we rarely see a truly one-sided conflict.

Even mines and palm oil plantations - condemned by critics for a track-record of environmental destruction and the forced evictions of indigenous communities - will point to jobs created and economic development achieved. 

Almost every country in the world has laws, like eminent domain, that say the legal titles or ancestral claims of existing residents can be overcome by benefits shared among many. Even Japan - where sitting tenants have some of the strongest rights in the world - allows forced expropriations, under some circumstances

But increasingly, we're seeing stories of competition for land taking place between groups who each have a desire to preserve lands and respect the rights of existing inhabitants. 

In just one week, we've seen reports from correspondents in Asia and Africa who have witnessed struggling communities come up against groups protecting an unlikely foe: elephants.

In Tanzania, nomadic herdsmen say their livestock is in jeopardy as the national parks service, which protects more than a third of the country's land, has redrawn boundaries to fence-off dwindling water sources and drought-affected pastures for wildlife.

In India, these giant mammals are penned into disappearing forest and increasingly coming into conflict with farmers, as urbanisation encroaches on both agricultural land and wildlife reserves.

These conflicts, sometimes deadly, are part of global trend that sees may people's intuitions torn. 

As populations grow and the demands for a food, water, a home, sustainable energy, and a place for nature increase, the pressures on land will likely multiply. And it's not always clear which is the "green" choice.

Destructive mining projects often touch on deeply entrenched beliefs that the industries behind them care little for the earth - but do environmentalists feel different when nature and local communities are endangered by plans to exploit metals destined for solar panels or electric cars?

- Matthew Ponsford

Discover more top stories from around the web this week. Have we missed anything? Tweet me @mjponsford or email place@thomsonreuters.com.

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