08 10/08/2011

Elephants Respond to Calm Reception

A new study has found that crop-raiding elephants are more likely to be deterred from their unwelcome activities when given a calm and quiet reception.

Traditionally, villagers in Assam, Northeast India, have dealt with their large, unwelcome arrivals by shouting, banging tins and setting off firecrackers.

But, as researchers from the Assam Haathi Project have published in the journal ‘Conservation Letters’, less is more.

Alexandra Zimmermann from Chester Zoo said: “We noticed that the methods we had developed to prevent crop damage – spotlights and various kinds of fencing - were in fact much more effective in the absence of noise. It appears that when these methods are combined with shouting or banging, they actually disorient the elephants, causing greater confusion and consequently more damage.”

“The quieter the villagers, the easier it is to make sure the elephants move on safely.”

In Assam, northeast India, wild elephants raid crops and damage buildings every year, and the local communities, which are mostly very poor, retaliate by attacking the elephants. This conflict is a very serious problem in many areas, for both the survival of Asian elephant, and the safety and livelihoods of the people affected.

The Assam Haathi Project, which is run by Chester Zoo in partnership with EcoSystems India, is working to alleviate the problem of human elephant conflict in Assam. The project focuses on helping local communities to live with elephants by developing innovative techniques to guard crops and property.

The project also carries out extensive research to understand the needs of the elephants and find solutions for the future.

Nandita Hazarika, from EcoSystems India, said: “This study will help us plan for the future, and one possible outcome may be the development of village defence teams who are trained in the best and most effective action during elephant raids.”

Donations to the Assam Haathi Project can be made via Act for Wildlife, a conservation campaign led by Chester Zoo.

Visit www.actforwildlife.org.uk/donate