New technique to stop raiding elephants

Elephants could be kept at bay by the sounds of predators. The new technique using an infrared sensor playback system developed by researchers could save farmers from raiding elephants.

Research carried out in South India by Dr Vivek Thuppil of the University of Nottingham, Malaysia Campus, and Dr Richard G. Coss from the University of California, Davis suggests that playing recorded sounds of predators could be effective in keeping elephants away from farms and villages. The results of the research has been published in Oryx – The International Journal of Conservation.

In filed studies, the infrared playback system could detect the presence of elephants and trigger the sound of growling tigers, leopards and angry shouts of villagers as the mammoths approached farmers’ fields. In 41 attempted raids, tiger sounds stopped 90 per cent, the sound of leopards deterred 73 per cent and human shouts prevented 57 per cent.

Dr Thuppil said: “This technique was tested using static devices. Although the elephants shied away from the specific area they would eventually find another way into the field. So static recordings like this would work in locations where there is a narrow path of entry to farmland.

“Now I am interested in investigating how an elephant would respond to threatening sounds if they were not emanating from a stationary source. To accomplish this, there would be a network of speakers and an intruding elephant’s location would be tracked continuously with only the speaker nearest the elephant being activated. This would simulate persistent tracking of an elephant by a predator.”

Human-elephant conflict

Elephants live off roots, grasses, fruit and bark and the Earth’s largest land mammal needs to consume over 130 kilograms of food in a single day to satisfy its huge appetite. As the Asian elephant’s natural habitat is squeezed to make way for agriculture, new roads and development, conflict between elephants and humans is an increasing problem.

The researchers tested two infrared systems, one that was more complex and realistic, and one that was simple enough for farmers to set up around their fields. Both were effective in deterring elephants. But it seems an elephant never does forget, and those that encountered the noises more than once were less likely to be fooled.

Dr Thuppil’s research interests are in evolutionary psychology. Dr. Coss was in the field of animal behaviour and he moved to the School of Psychology at UNMC last September. He is particularly interested in how basic research can promote applied causes such as wildlife conservation or sustainability.

New collaboration

Dr Thuppil will be collaborating with MEME (the Management and Ecology of the Malaysian Elephant) – a research project at UNMC led by Dr Ahimsa Campos-Arceiz.

MEME, together with Perhilitan, Malaysia’s Department of Wildlife and National Parks, are fitting wild elephants with specially designed collars packed with satellite and cell phone technology. The aim is to learn more about the Asian elephant, and crucially how to mitigate the growing problem of human-elephant conflict.

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