In the wake of the deaths of four elephants to electrocution when they struck a power line near Thithimathi in Karnataka, the government is proposing more solar electric fencing to control elephant movements around the national park.
Solar electric fencing is already used around many coffee plantations, and we saw that such fencing was also being used in park very close to the city of Bangalore. The solar fences have low enough voltage that they won't kill elephants, yet high enough that it will stop elephants from trying to break through it.
However, the use of solar electric fences has generally been found to less effective than expected. The common reaction of elephants is to keep walking until they get around the obstruction. That means the use of such fencing around a contained coffee estate is generally more effective than when used to prevent elephant movement in a general sense, as the government is contemplating. Such fences act more like a seawall; they merely concentrate the efforts of elephants movements toward less protected areas. Containing the entire park would be extremely expensive.
The other problem is maintaining fences. Solar fences and their batteries require constant maintenance, and elephants can break through fences when the power is down. Then once they get out, they are restrained from getting back inside the park.
Biologist Karthic Krishnan, who works with a large coffee estate to reduce elephant conflicts, says electric fences worked at first, but elephants have found ways to getting past them. He says he and his workers have seen elephants throw rocks or knock down trees to break a fence and cross it.
Sadly, electric fences seem like an ineffective solution to the greater problem of co-existence with elephants.
Dr. Thomas Grant
Professor of Journalism at Abraham Baldwin Agricultural College