1st Edition

The Presence of Elephants Shared Lives and Landscapes

By Paul G. Keil Copyright 2025
    200 Pages 31 B/W Illustrations
    by Routledge

    How to dwell in a forest alongside giants, avoid disturbing a living god, assist an animal with their manners, and help an elephant cross the road. The Presence of Elephants is an anthropological consideration of coexistence, grounded in people’s everyday interactions with household and free-roaming Asian elephants. Drawing on two years of fieldwork in Assam, northeast India, this book is an ethnography of human-elephant co-presence that examines how minds, tasks, identities, and places are shared between the two species. Sharing lives and landscapes with such a formidable being is a continuously shifting and negotiated exchange, inherently composed of tensions, asymmetries, and uncertainty, especially in the Anthropocene when breakdowns in communication increasingly have violent effect. Developing a multifaceted picture of human-elephant relations in a postcolonial setting, each chapter focuses on a different dimension of encounter, where elephants adapt to human norms, people are subject to elephant projects, and novel interspecies possibilities emerge at the threshold of nature and society. Vulnerability is a common experience intensified in contemporary human-elephant relations, felt through the elephant’s power to  disrupt and transform human lives, as well as the risks these endangered animals are exposed to. This book will be of interest to scholars of multispecies ethnography and human-animal relations, environmental humanities, conservation, and South Asian studies.



    1 Exclusive landscape, fragmented relations

    2 Exchanges with a hungry god

    3 Scaffolding giants

    4 Corresponding with wild neighbours

    5 Collaborative solidarity and reclaiming the local

    6 Conclusion



    Paul G. Keil is a researcher in the Institute of Ethnology at the Czech Academy of Sciences. He gained a PhD in Anthropology from Macquarie University in Australia. He is co-editor of Composing Worlds with Elephants: Interdisciplinary dialogues.