The drastic depletion of elephant habitats in the dry zone of Sri Lanka has led to intense human-elephant conflict (HEC) in a region that is home to one of the celebrated agrarian settlements in Asia. Known as the tank villages, these settlements have a long history of human coexistence with elephants and other wild animals. However, the escalating incidence of human-elephant fatalities and crop losses to farmers indicates that the mode of interaction between the tank village inhabitants and the elephants has transformed from coexistence to conflict. Both population and agricultural land use pattern dynamics have contributed to agricultural expansion and loss of elephant habitat in the dry zone of Sri Lanka. However, our knowledge of how the agricultural land use pattern dynamics has contributed to the drastic depletion of elephant range in the dry zone is limited. This research attempted to gain insight into the role of agricultural land use dynamics on elephant habitat depletion and HEC in Sri Lanka through the study of Kuttikulama, a dry zone tank village. The data were collected through focus group discussions, key informant interviews and a cross sectional survey. The study revealed that agricultural land use patterns in traditional dry zone villages have changed in major ways over the last few decades. Such changes included the transition from a shifting-cultivation mode of farming to a fixed sequential mode of farming, the expansion of the per capita cropping area, and the disappearance of communality in agricultural land use patterns. The changes were found to have significantly contributed to a shift in human–elephant interactions from relatively harmonious ones to contentious ones. The study reveals the potential of traditional and alternative cropping and land use systems to minimize human-elephant conflict in Sri Lanka.