A few years ago, we wondered whether elephants could be kept from raiding crop fields by scaring them. With a grant from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s Asian Elephant Conservation Fund, we decided to try out the concept of using what would pretty much be a technologically complex scarecrow. We got some interesting results.
1) We saw that elephants would get pretty scared of tigers and would beat a pretty hasty retreat.
2) They’d get scared of people too & they’d make their displeasure at having their attempt to feed known loud and clear!
3) And they didn’t generally have a very high opinion of leopards, even though to me that seemed to be the scariest sound!
4) Even a leopard growl was effective at scaring an elephant if they had both it and something else such as an electric fence to deal with.
5) Now elephants really don’t like solar-powered electric fences because they provide a non-lethal, but pretty painful shock.
6) Despite the pain of dealing with a fence, they are known to break fences every now and then and gorge on those delicious, delicious crops. The villagers are then stuck with the repair task the next morning, some of them left considerably poorer as a result of the elephant’s feasting.
What we learned: One of the most important things we learned last year was that these sound playbacks could be very effective when they were used along with something such as an electric fence. The playback would keep elephants from going on to touch the electric fence. Even if the elephant habituated to the sound, the electric fence was there as a second line of defence. And since the electric fence would be tested less often, there would be less breakage – in fact, at the village shown above, there were no instances of the fence breaking after we set up our playback system. The elephants were deterred by the playbacks each and every time they came to the area.