Nelly Bassily | December 3, 2007
The sound of bees or the scent of chilies may be small annoyances to most people. But they may also be solutions to one great big problem faced by farmers in many African countries: elephants.
Since the 1980s, conservation efforts have brought African elephants back from the brink of extinction. It’s now estimated that more than half a million elephants roam the continent. And when the giant beasts enter farming communities, the results can be disastrous. They trample fields, eat crops, and can even destroy houses and raid grain silos.
Recently, a herd of elephants from a national park invaded the Bukonzo East district of Uganda. Several acres of crops were destroyed, leaving many families with no food. A local politician told a newspaper the elephants would be killed unless the wildlife authority took them away.
Meanwhile, researchers from Oxford University have been looking for methods to keep elephants away from farms without hurting them by exploiting something elephants naturally fear – bees.
During recent field trials in Kenya, the researchers found that a simple recording of angry bees will cause a herd of elephants to flee an area in about a minute. The research group is also developing a beehive fence. An elephant passing one of these fences would start bees flying and buzzing, scaring the invader away.
It is believed that elephants have learned to avoid bees because they can inflict painful stings inside their trunks.
It has also been discovered that elephants dislike capsaicin, the chemical in chili peppers that makes them hot.
Studies conducted in South Africa have shown that a few rows of chilies around valuable crops can deter elephants from barging through. Even more effective are so-called “chili-dung bombs” promoted by the Elephant Pepper Development Trust in Cape Town. Composed of crushed chilies and animal dung, the bricks, or “bombs”, create a noxious smoke when lit and send elephants scampering away.