Crop raiding by wildlife has been dealt with ruthlessly by man since the first was crop sewn. As time goes by, with the world's population snowballing, land is being lost to agriculture, resulting in wildlife losing habitat at thousands of acres per day. This can only lead to one thing...human wildlife conflict.
To understand the seriousness of the issue, one has to focus to the mindset of a farmer. His only source of livelihood is the crop he's planted. Then a herd of elephant arrive, and within a couple minutes, destroys not only a season's work and investment, but more seriously takes the food off the table that he was hoping to sustain his family with. He has a spear or bow and arrow ... and understandably does not think twice about using them. The result, a badly wounded or dead elephant.
Today in the Amboseli ecosytem, crop raiding continues to grow, and the only long term solution is to identify key farming and wildlife areas and then create effective barriers through electric fencing. This has been done in some areas, but the costs are so high it is unaffordable for the farmers, and so far we have been unable to raise the hundreds of thousands of dollars required. As a result of this, we have been deploying game ranger teams with thunder flashes to scare the elephants out of farms. This is an expensive exercise and not that efficient as in one night, the teams cannot be in ten different places at once. Elephants, being so intelligent, soon learn that there is no inherent danger with the thunder flashes and are soon to return for another meal!
As an experiment to deter elephant more effectively, Big Life are experimenting with a new way to combat crop raiding elephants – “chilli grenades” made from a condom, a bit of explosive, some sand and of course lots of crushed chillies. Because elephants have a large and sensitive olfactory and nasal system they are particularly sensitive to smells, in fact sensitive enough that just the smell of chillies will irritate them to the point of it being a deterrent.
Chillies have been used in such a way throughout Africa and Asia to great effect. Farmers usually encircled their crops with chilli plantations; effectively creating a barrier that the elephant just doesn’t want to cross. The plantations in the eco-system that Big Life covers are just too big to make this practical however, so Big Life are working on a new way to bring the power of chillies in combating elephant raids to the Amboseli ecosystem.
The “chilli grenades” are made of condoms stuffed with 3 teaspoons of chilli, 3 teaspoons of sand and a fire cracker. They are simple enough to be made in the Big Life HQ by our game rangers and are also very inexpensive, making distribution across the eco-system plausible. The grenades have been distributed to local farmers who, on sight of a raiding elephant, light the fuse and launch them above it. The cloud of chilli powder that falls on the elephant is enough to cause it temporary irritation and result in a change of course and a giving up of its quest for food. Human elephant conflict is avoided and, best of all, neither the elephant nor human are harmed.
Although this experiment is still very much in the early stages, results already look promising. We have also start meticulously documenting cases of elephant human conflicts (along with their outcomes), so should have concrete data on the effectiveness of the “chilli grenades” experiment very soon.