Researchers have found in a new study that deforestation and increasing human use of land for agriculture and infrastructure have eroded the habitat of the Asian elephant by more than 64% since the year 1700, resulting in the loss of 3.3 million square kilometers of land. The Asian elephant is listed as endangered and is found in 13 countries in Asia. Large-scale habitat loss has driven up the potential for conflict between elephants and humans, which the study claims can be avoided with proper planning. Elephant habitats experienced the greatest decline in China, where humans lost 94% of suitable land between 1700 and 2015, followed by India, which lost 86%. More than half of suitable elephant habitats have been lost in Bangladesh, Thailand, Vietnam, and Indonesia’s Sumatra. Bhutan, Nepal, and Sri Lanka also saw a significant decline.

The acceleration in elephant habitat loss began in the year 1700, coinciding with the expansion of European colonization in the region. The era also saw novel sets of beliefs, economic influences, and government frameworks reaching beyond the cities of Europe into the forests of Asia, speeding up elephant habitat loss and the fragmentation of the species. Humans are expanding further into wild spaces with population centers, agriculture, and extractive industries like mining. Habitat loss means elephants are migrating from their usual territories, creating “challenges for human communities that have little experience with elephants,” the study said. If current elephant populations are to survive, the study recommends replacing the practice of driving them into ever-shrinking and marginal habitats with attempts to adequately identify and connect areas of suitable habitat.