Imagine living in a nation where wild animals kill a person every day. According to reports from the environment ministry in India, that's what is happening there now. Elephants and tigers kill someone in India, on average, every day.
Elephants killed many more people than tigers, 1052 people in a little over 1100 days. And according to officials, the root cause of those deaths wa human encroachment into animal territory.
Of course, elephants and tigers are being killed, too. Nearly 350 tigers and 100 elephants were killed in that same time frame, according to ministry reports. They blame poachers. However, as we have reported in "Elephants in the Coffee," conflicts over agriculture has become the primary threat to elephants.
You may think of the human encroachment into elephant territory as the construction of homes and villages in elephant migration paths. That is certainly the most dramatic scene, as reported in this story. In that case, a village had to be relocated because it was directly in the path of elephants.
But the greater encroachment is that of agriculture. As one farmer told us in our film, much of that area of Coorg in southern India was barren land until the past 20 or 30 years. Then the growth of coffee plantations transformed that land. But to the elephants, it still seemed to be forest.
Many think that elephants can be simply fenced away from human areas. Here's a plan in Odisha to use beehive fencing: "The design of beehive fencing incorporates locally constructed beehives, which are strung intermittently between wooden poles to compose a primitive fence. When elephants bump into the fence and disturb the associated hives, it forces the bees to come out and sound around elephants. As a result, the elephants flee from that area."
Here was a plan to use hot peppers to fence out elephants. "Conservationists working on the experimental project in Assam state said they have put up jute fences made of strong vegetable fiber and smeared them with automobile grease and bhut jolokia chilies. These peppers, also known as ghost chilies, have been certified as the world's hottest by the Guinness Book of World Records."
Here is a plan to use a pvc gun to scare off elephants: "H. Madhusudhanam, a local conservationist in Gudalur, says that the “gun” uses calcium carbide and water, which when mixed together inside the contraption, produces acetylene acid and hydrogen gas. A small gas lighter, which acts as a trigger, is used to light the gas which produces a loud bang."
But even if they work, neither bees, nor hot peppers, nor loud noises, nor even steel rail fences solve the real problem. They merely divert the elephant conflicts, much like seawalls focus the power of the ocean to a point further down the shore. Bees and pvc pop-guns scare the elephants onto someone else's property, but the do not end the confrontations.
India's 30,000 wild elephants need room to roam, and they will continually bump up against humans. The real question is not how can we stop elephants, but how can we live with them?
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Dr. Thomas Grant
Professor of Journalism at Abraham Baldwin Agricultural College