Fireworks for Elephants

by Anonymous (not verified) on

By Alex Godfrey, SAFER Project Leader, ZSL Thailand

This World Elephant Day're sharing an update on work we've been doing to try and reduce the damage done to agricultural crops like sugar cane by elephants, and the likelihood of retaliatory killings.

We're developing an advanced warning system using camera traps that are linked up to the mobile phone network. We call them “SAFER” cameras, which stands for ‘System Alerting Farmers to Elephant Raids’, and place them at points where elephants regularly exit the forest. 

The cameras, triggered by movement, take a photo of the elephant, which is sent in real time to the Crop Protection Unit (CPU), a team composed of wildlife rangers and local farmers. The CPU can then intercept the elephants and direct them safely back into the forest. 

The farmers are also testing systems of their own. The video above shows a trip wire linked to a firecracker that has been set up across one of the elephants’ regular exit points. When pulled, the wire triggers the firecracker producing a loud - but harmless - noise. We were able to capture some of these events, as well as the reaction of the elephants, with the SAFER camera traps. You can see that the elephants, surprised by the explosion, retreat back into the forest. Elephants that have experienced the explosion before don’t try to cross the wire - but others are unsuspecting and try to step over it. 

Elephants are extremely intelligent animals and often find ways to avoid or overcome barriers put in their way, be it using a tree trunk to flatten an electric fence or digging out the sides to climb up out of a trench. Furthermore, they quickly habituate to most fear-based deterrents. Realising that explosions are not a source of danger, their effectiveness quickly drops with repeated experience. It is therefore important to regularly change the mitigation methods and keep the elephants guessing - which keeps us busy!

Note: We would like to clarify that ZSL Thailand had no involvement in the design, implementation or operation of the trip wire; we simply happened to film one of them when it was setup in the same area as one of our cameras after the camera was installed.

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