Researchers find smelly cure for jumbo menace

A new smelly liquid that can be smeared on fences might provide a cure for human-elephant conflicts.

The liquid is made from a mixture of locally sourced ingredients that include chilli, garlic, ginger, neem leaves, cooking oil, dung and rotten eggs has proved effective in keeping the elephants away from farms.

The initiative is part of a study carried out in Kenya and Uganda by WildAid and Save the Elephants between 2018 and 2020. The report from the study was published in June this year at Multidisciplinary Digital Publishing Institute (MDPI).

The study was carried out in search of effective and affordable methods for tackling the increasing cases of human-elephant conflicts.

“In this study, we tested a novel olfactory deterrent, the “smelly elephant repellent”, a foul-smelling organic liquid, on 40 farms in Uganda and Kenya. Our results show that the repellent was effective at deterring elephants from crop raiding,” the study noted.

The smelly liquid was preferred because elephants have an excellent sense of smell and possess nearly 2,000 smell receptors—five times more than humans.

And while chilli pepper is one of the most widely tested approach in deterring elephants, there has been criticism levelled at the difficulty, expense and labour required for application, and its uptake by farmers.

The new repellent was tested in 10 farms in Kenya located in Lower Sagalla, on the border of the Tsavo East National Park and part of the Tsavo Conservation Area, which is home to one of country’s largest elephant population of approximately 15,000 individuals.

Trials in Kenya were conducted at peak crop-raiding seasons between 2019 and 2021 where the repellent proved to be 63 per cent effective. In Uganda, trials conducted in 30 farms in Latoro, on the border of the Murchison Falls National Park where the repellent proved to be 82 per cent effective.

“In Kenya, during the two-year study period, there were 24 recorded incidents at the 10 trial farms, and 63percent of elephants approaching the protected farms were deterred,” the study noted.

 It added: “Our study found that the novel olfactory deterrent, the “smelly elephant repellent”, was effective at deterring elephants from crop raiding in both Uganda and Kenya”.

To process the repellent, the ingredients were pounded before being cooked together and left to mature for four weeks. The repellent was distributed to farmers in advance of the usual crop raiding seasons that often kicks off between November–January in Kenya.

While in Uganda, farmers applied the repellent in two ways-either spraying on crops or fence-line method where they tie bottles containing repellent to the fence. Bottle caps were placed on the bottles and holes perforated in the sides of the bottles to allow the repellent’s scent to disperse.

The spray method involved directly applying the repellent to crops. In Kenya, all farmers used the fence method.

“The smelly elephant repellent has the potential to become a helpful crop raiding mitigation tool for farmers, as this study showed it to be effective, relatively cheap, and quick to produce from locally available ingredients, and communities have a positive attitude towards using it,” the study said.

It added: “Given these encouraging factors, work is ongoing by WildAid to develop this product using a market-based approach. To-date, no crop raiding mitigation method has truly cracked the issue of widespread adoption across multiple geographies.”

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