Thursday, September 19, 2013

Indian farmers encouraged to keep marauding elephants at bay with chilli

India's government is to encourage farmers to plant chilli peppers along routes favoured by wild elephants in an effort to deter them from eating crops. Clashes between India's 21,000 wild elephants and the country's 1.2 billion inhabitants are increasingly common About 400 Indians are killed each year by elephants, and nearly 1m hectares of farmland damaged. In return, many elephants die annually in makeshift traps set by villagers or when hit by trains.

"We think planting chilli pepper may be worth trying. Several experts and state governments have also suggested that cropping changes should be attempted to avoid crop damage – a very serious problem in Karnataka, Orissa and West Bengal, among other states," SS Garbyal, of the ministry of environment and forest said. The suggestion was made at a brainstorming meeting organised by the ministry to examine ways to reduce growing human-animal conflict.

The use of chilli – mixed with dung and made into fences – has been tested successfully in Namibia. An alternative method involves lighting blocks of dried chilli which then emit a choking smoke. Indian officials hope the animals will learn to avoid chilli-sown areas. Success, however, will depend on dry weather and wind direction. India's booming population and economic growth have placed the historic grazing lands of elephants under enormous pressure. To avoid exhausting fodder in one area, herds migrate.

Attempts to create safe corridors for their travel have been hit by bureaucratic sloth and lack of enforcement. Latest estimates put India's elephant population at 21,000 – the largest in Asia. About half of these are found in northeastern states of Assam, Arunachal Pradesh and Meghalaya. With developments encroaching on the forests where the elephants live, they are increasingly coming into contact with humans.

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