First the good news, the eastern African elephant population is finally rebounding after years of dwindling numbers, now the bad news news, those new elephants are crushing underbrush at 25 miles per hour. While farmers are able to scare away some of the elephants with homemade pipe bombs and even the sound of crashing tin cans, they have recently turned to a new approach that doesn’t require 24 hours monitoring, chili peppers.
To keep elephants out farmers are coating fences with chili peppers mixed with engine oil, that mixture allows the peppers to adhere to the fence, even in heavy downpours. As the elephants smell the fences they eventually snuffle, sneeze and then move on to another area. Because elephants have poor eye-sight they lift their trunks in a snorkel maneuver to smell for food but instead they are met with the smell and burning sensation of chili peppers.
Farmers thought at one point about implementing electric fences but it was far to expensive to keep their farms profitable and wildlife experts believed the fences would prevent migration patterns which could harm the elephant population over the long-term.
The biggest concern for farms isn’t even the trampling of their farms but rather the 660 pounds of food that the elephants will consume in a short 18 hour period. Multiple 660 pounds by 15 to 20 elephants in a heard and an entire crop can easily be wiped out in less than 24 hours.
In the meantime battling the elephants still proves to be difficult for farmers, the elephants are very sneak, often sending one elephant on a scouting expedition for food only to return with 3-4 family members at a later time. In some cases the elephants are found “sneaking” around for food to avoid detection.
So why chili peppers? It turns out that elephants are nothing more than a bunch of foodies preferring watermelon and maize over dry grass. Farmers crops contain more calories which allow the elephants to eat less to consume more energy.
While farmers were at first skeptical 31 villages in four areas of Tanzania have now implementing chili fences with more areas expected to join the program soon as wildlife officials work to educate farmers about the practice of installing the chili pepper based borders.
Researchers in the meantime are aware that elephants will likely grow use to the chili peppers and are therefore working on other methods for the future.