Meal Times Are Spicing Up For Chirundu Elephants

It’s not just poaching that poses a threat to our beautiful elephants. In both India and Africa human-elephant conflict (HEC) is on the rise due primarily to the expansion of human settlements into wildlife areas. Elephants are increasingly entering urbanised areas in search of food and wreaking havoc as they go. Governments and HEC management officials have been advocating the use of chilli as a non-lethal preventative measure for a number of years. Many ‘chilli-based’ projects have met with success including the Chirundu Elephant Programme in Zimbabwe – the DEGTH? team has been following their progress…

Projectile "guns"

Projectile “guns”

The programme started all because of one “problem” elephant named Hop-a-Long. He was in conflict with local residents and had started to damage both public and private property – officials determined that he would be destroyed next time he ‘crossed the line’. The Chirundu Elephant Programme was founded and joined forces with HEC officials and Zimbabwe Parks & Wildlife to attempt a rather wacky sounding alternative solution – chilli loaded ping pong balls! On hitting the elephant, the casing breaks and releases a chilli mixture onto the elephant’s skin – the mixture is an irritant but the effect is temporary and, with repetition, it is hoped that the elephants will be deterred from entering the town which they will come to associate with the discomfort.

In Early November 2014, armed with three chilli-guns and advice from veteran elephant expert Mike La Grange, the team hit the streets. It soon became clear that Hop-a-Long was not the only troublesome elephant… this would be a bigger undertaking than first thought!

Loading the balls with the chilli mixture

Loading the balls with the chilli mixture

Within the first few days they were achieving small successes with the chilli projectiles. Those shot with the chilli immediately retreated out of town but, unfortunately, not all stayed out! Hop-a-Long and another large bull were deterred for over a week but have started to reappear increasingly often in the last few days. The other of the big bulls with “problem” status is particularly persistent. He has been dubbed ‘chilli-boy’ by the team! On a positive note all the elephants’ behaviour has changed and now they only need to see the 4x4s before they pack their trunks – so to speak! This is a huge leap in the right direction as these elephants had become worryingly habituated to the hustle and bustle of town life. The process will be a long one but initial results are promising and the team continue to work around the clock to save the elephants. After only 1 month there is currently no lethal threat to the three “problem” elephants and no more elephants have been given “problem” status – RESULT! Keep up the great work saving these amazing, emotional beings, Chirundu Elephant Programme.

Dinner – the way nature intended it!

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