Every year during the summer rainy season in the KAZA region, elephant begin to raid crops of local villages and towns. This creates what is known as a human wildlife conflict. For many people in rural villages their crops are their main source of food, and one night of elephant raiding can wipe out the entire year’s food supply. On the other hand, with more and more pressure of human settlements, and human activities in traditional safari areas and wildlife corridors, elephant are expanding into neighboring towns. This has led to situations in which elephant are losing their fear of people, and coming into close contact with humans.
In rural villages and towns, elephants raid crops, creating what is known as a human-wildlife conflict.
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In an effort to conserve the elephants in the regions, the Victoria Falls Wildlife Trust together with Connected Conservation, are testing out the use of chili pepper as a deterrent against elephant invading human settlements. Many projects throughout Africa are attempting the use of chili pepper and many other forms of deterrents; ranging from bees to trenches as a way to prevent elephant from transgressing into human habituated areas. However, the Trust has found that a range of measures need to be used depending on the situation: planting chili plants along perimeters, or using chili powder in grease on rags along the boundaries may be a good passive deterrent, but a more aggressive role may need to be taken when elephant are already in the crops.
Since April 2010, the Trust has been testing out the use of a potato gun that shoots ping pong balls (instead of potatoes) full of chili oil and chili powder. The balls explode on impact when they hit the elephant. Elephant do not like the smell of chili, and the sound of the potato gun firing a ping pong ball, combined with the feel of the impact of the ball and the smell of the chili drives the elephant away from the source (in this case the human settlements). The chili powder and oil has no harmful effects to the elephant, it easily gets wiped off when the elephant throws mud on itself or wallows in the next waterhole. It is well documented that elephant have a remarkable memory and we are hoping to prove, over time, that chili pepper will deter elephant from returning to settlements, and aid in conserving elephant in the region.
If we are going to conserve elephants and reduce their conflict with people, it is crucial we have the support of the local communities.
Frequent community education and training is important to build trust and ensure a long-term strategy to reduce human-elephant conflict. Each year, the Trust works in collaboration with external consultants from African wildlife Management and Conservation to run human-wildlife conflict training programs in each community around Victoria Falls.
Monitoring hot-spots of elephant conflict
In 2017, the Victoria Falls Wildlife Trust partnered with a private consulting company, “Connected Conservation” to undertake a long-term elephant monitoring project to better understand corridor movements of conflict bull elephants through the community areas surrounding of Victoria Falls. Since July 2017 we have successfully attached GPS collars to 10 adult bull elephants in order to track their movements along ‘wildlife corridors’ and through communal areas. This research will help to map ‘Hot-Spot’ areas of human-elephant conflict so that we can better direct our elephant management efforts on the ground. With this research we hope to improve community livelihoods by reducing the number and extent of crop-raiding elephants, and assess corridors utilized by elephant.