Elephants spin out over CDs
Thursday 6 November 2008
Bad music is being put to good use by conservationists in Thailand who are stringing up unwanted CDs to keep elephants away from farmers’ crops.
The Elephant Conservation Network (ECN), working with ZSL, is the first to trial a revolutionary technique using CDs as light reflectors to deter the world’s largest land animal from Thailand’s crops.
ECN and local partners are working to diminish the incidence of human-elephant conflict - especially the growing issue of crop-raiding which is threatening rural livelihoods and the lives of elephants.
Crop-raiding occurs on traditional elephant forest routes with these large animals devouring crops and destroying trees in their path. This is a major burden for farmers as crops are destroyed, human dwellings can be flattened and people can be hurt or even killed.
The Salakpra Wildlife Sanctuary, in West Thailand, was the country’s first wildlife sanctuary and is now home to around 150 Asian elephants. But over the years the sanctuary has been diminished by encroachment and degraded by over-exploitation.
ZSL Thailand Elephant Project Manager and Director of ECN, Belinda Stewart-Cox, said: “We are working with farmers to find a cost-effective way for them to keep elephants out of their fields.”
“We’ve been monitoring human impacts on elephants and their forest habitat as well as elephant impacts on people. What we’ve found is that people are doing as much, or more, damage to elephants as vice versa. Elephants are being deprived of habitat, food and water so they have no choice but to raid farms to survive”.
Local villagers working with the ECN made a special visit to a south west Thailand national park where other villagers were tackling the elephant crop-raiding problem.
“One villager had hung CDs across a fence to discourage elephants from raiding his pineapple field. The technique was most effective during full moon when the CDs twisted and shone, mimicking a person with a torch. Our villagers loved this cheap and easy method and asked us to include it in our crop protection trials,” she said.
CDs strung with string have been set-up around the Salakpra Wildlife Sanctuary in two different sites – surrounding a field of sugarcane and around a mango and papaya orchard.
Ms Stewart-Cox said: “We put the word out and local companies donated hundreds of CDs that were either promotional giveaways or music people didn’t want anymore.”
Some other methods tested by the ECN and resourceful Thai villagers include plastic bags tied along string to mimic an electric fence, chilli and tobacco oil fences as well as different types of electric fencing.
“The benefit of using CDs is that it’s cost-effective, easy and at this stage is working. Elephants are extremely intelligent animals so famers still need to set up a watch-tower to keep an eye on their crops. We are analysing the effectiveness of this method but it offers an initial deterrent and fix to a significant problem in Thailand and to the Asian elephant population in this area.”
These one year crop protection trials are part of a larger three year human-elephant conflict project funded by the Darwin Initiative.