Standing next to an adult elephant is incredibly intimidating; adult male African elephants can weigh more than 15,000 pounds. Many farmers fear and hate them because cropraiding elephants can destroy entire fields and even threaten farmers’ lives. Imagine an angry farmer going up against a hungry 6-ton elephant! In southern India, during a three-year period 60,939 incidents of cropraiding occurred and 91 people were killed . This also presents a problem for the conservation of elephants because retaliatory killing of elephants often occur and public support of elephants is incredibly important for their survival.
There have been many methods tested to deter elephants from raiding crops, however, elephants are often too big and smart for these deterrents to work: elephants will push over fences or simply go around them , culling problem animals just makes way for new crop raiders, and the electrical fences set up by the government will either be destroyed by the elephants or fall into disrepair because of a lack of upkeep .
Some new and upcoming methods to deter crop raiders include using elephant behavior to keep them away from cultivated land. It may be humorous to think about the largest land mammal running in fear of a simple bee, but because of the thin skin around elephants’ eyes, trunk, and under their legs, they are actually susceptible to bee stings just as we are. A swarm of bees has been known to send entire herds into flight . Setting up bee hives along well known paths and near key habitat areas, such as water sources near crops, has been proven to deter elephants from those areas, however, often times the elephants will go around them to get to where they want to go: the water hole, or the tasty crops . Although “beehive fences” won’t completely work to deter an elephant from a whole crop, they can be used along well-established paths either to guide them away from a crop or keep them from coming near water sources near crops.
While humans rely mostly on eyesight, the elephant’s most powerful sensor is their nose. Just like a human could be blinded by a bright light, elephants are “blinded” by extremely strong scents, which is why another promising elephant deterrent is the creation of rope fences covered in chili grease. Chili grease fences are created with a mixture of chili essence, motor grease, and sometimes tobacco . One farm encircled by a chili rope went un-raided for two years despite nine attempts . If there is a way around the fence, the elephant will find it. However, when faced with the decision to either go near the fence and get to the crops or leave, all elephants chose to avoid the fence and the crops were protected . The downside to this method is the constant upkeep of the rope: the paste must be reapplied at least once a week, more during the rainy season.
These methods of deterrence that utilize animal behavior are extremely promising because they are specialized for specific behaviors and are non-lethal to endangered animals such as the elephant. Decreasing crop raiding through effective methods that do not harm the animal is one way of improving conservation efforts for elephants. Villages with agricultural practices are much more likely to support conservation efforts when their livelihood and lives aren’t being threatened by neighboring elephants.
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- Sitati, N., and Walpole, M. (2006). Assessing Farm-Based Measures for Mitigating Human-Elephant Conflict in Transmara District, Kenya. Oryx 40(3):279-286.
- Moss, C.J., Croze, H., and Lee, P.C. (2011). The Amboseli Elephants: a Long Term Perspective on a Long-Term Mammal. University of Chicago Press, Chicago.
- 4.Vollrath, F., and Douglas-Hamilton, I. (2002). African Bes to Control African Elephants. Naturwissenschaften 86(11):508-511.