Engaging Farmers To Prevent Elephant Conflicts
In recent years, habitat loss and agriculture growth have led to more conflicts between African elephants and humans in Tanzania’s Selous-Niassa Wildlife Corridor. This region is home to about 600 elephants and 30 villages, most of which rely on subsistence farming. The conflicts may lead to crop loss, damage to infrastructure and water supplies, and, in a few cases, human injury or death from elephant charges.
To maintain the safety of the animals and reduce harm to villages, the authors of this paper argue that it is important to understand which strategies are preferred by local farmers and rangers. Having a sense of ownership over the techniques, as well as adequate funds and community cooperation, may help farmers feel more empowered to implement them.
The researchers interviewed 480 locals in the Selous-Niassa Wildlife Corridor, asking them to weigh in on which farm-based elephant deterrents they feel are most effective, how much support from NGOs and community involvement they prefer, and their previous experiences with elephants. Participants were also given a choice experiment questionnaire, where they were asked to choose between different elephant mitigation strategies with varied costs and levels of community cooperation and NGO/government support.
Participants rated the following elephant mitigation strategies as most- to least-effective:
- Noisemakers (considered effective by 52% of respondents) — automating buzzing, drumming, or horn sounds to deter elephants
- Crop selection (considered effective by 48% of respondents) — planting crops that are less preferred by elephants to reduce raiding
- Chili-oil fences (considered effective by 47% of respondents) — spreading chili scent, which elephants don’t like, on the ropes around the farm
- Surveillance at night (considered effective by 38% of respondents) — guarding farms and chasing elephants away with chili-bombs, pipe cannons, or horns
- Beehive fences (considered effective by 31% of respondents) — installing beehives, which elephants don’t like, to repel them from farms
- Crop relocation (considered effective by 28% of respondents) — moving crops to areas where elephants are less common
However, in the choice experiment, chili-oil fences and beehive fences were ranked highest. In general, participants preferred to be offered technical support from NGOs when implementing an elephant mitigation strategy, and cooperation in large groups to implement a strategy was favored over individual or small-group interventions.
Overall, while only four respondents had been directly charged by elephants, 55% had experienced crop damage as a result of elephants. Importantly, 2.5% of respondents did not choose any preference in the choice experiment due to budget restraints and 5% refused all choices for reasons including a belief that elephant mitigation measures should be implemented by the government or that elephants are rare in their area.
The study also found that farmers with previous, direct experience of elephant damage were less willing to pay for elephant mitigation measures than those who had been less affected. The authors believe this can be explained by the lack of resources in elephant-damaged areas, shown by high levels of reported food shortages.
These results are promising for elephant advocates and conservation experts, as they suggest that most farmers see the value in implementing local, farm-based strategies to reduce human-elephant conflicts. While it appears that farmers in Tanzania prefer a combination of chili-oil or beehive fences, large group cooperation, and technical advice from NGOs when deterring elephants, advocates must bear in mind that every community is different.When working with a specific community, it’s important to ask locals for their input and engage them in every step of the decision-making process. This shows respect for their needs and empowers them to take actions that will benefit them and the elephants they live alongside.