In Asia, elephants have attacked farmers, consumed barrels fulls of rice beer, stored in huts, damage crop fields, rip down trees and forests, taken water and forage meat fore livestock, raid orchards, damage water lines and mains, knock down homes and villages.
Villagers have to deal with angry elephants in musth and by hungry ones that rid their fields. Those that dare to stop them get their homes knock downed and sometimes are trampled to death.
In India elephants damage 10,000 to 15,000 houses and 2 million to 2.5 million acres of crops each year. In Thailand, elephants have stopped trucks carrying sugar cane on the road. and ransacked their loads. There is a maker on the train on the Jungle train between Singapore and Kota Bahur that pays tribute to an elephant that to a bull elephant that derailed a train to protect its herd. The elephant is in the museum in Kuala Lumpur.
In India in 1993, a herd with 50 elephants that had its traditional migration routes disrupted encroached on villages 30 miles from downtown Calcutta. The Indian media tracked the progress of the animals every day and frightened residents erected giant walls to deter the elephants. After the coordinated effort by authorities and villages the elephant force to head back to their "home." One wildlife official told the Washington Post, "There have been more and more disturbances in their normal migration routes. This is the first time in recent memory that these herds have come so close to urban habitat." [Source: Washington Post]
Elephant Pests and Farmers
A large Asian elephant consumes up 400 pounds of vegetation a day. Between their trampling feet and their appetite elephants can waste a to a farmers field---and along with his source of food and livelihood---in a matter of hours. Elephants ate reportedly most fond of watermelons, maize, sugar cane, millet, bananas, rice and sorghum. In the Salakpra region of western Thailand, 462 elephant raids in 2006 cost farmers about $30,000.
It estimated that an elephant can destroy an acre of corn in an hour, and what is perhaps worse is they can remembers were plentiful food supplies are found. One wild life official in Zimbabwe said, "They come back year after year. Sometimes head will split into groups, raid different fields, join up afterwards and move away."
Raiding elephants often enter a field after sunset and leave before sunrise and hit villagers in buffer zones around the national parks particularly hard. Describing a crop-destroying elephant known as Vinay in action, Raman Sukumar wrote in Natural History magazine, "Vinay systematically pulled out the succulent plants with his trunk, biting off the flowering shoots, and discarding the stems and roots. For two hours, the farmer who fields were being destroyed tried vainly to chase Vinay away. [Source: Raman Sukumar, Natural History magazine, July 1995]
Causes of Elephant Pests
Theories as to why elephants destroy crops include loss of habitats, competition between man and elephants over water and vegetation, disruption of traditional migration routes, the establishment of agricultural land in elephant territory, and the high nutritional value of cultivated crops as opposed wild plants. Some scientists insist that elephants get a worse rap than they deserve and cause much less damage to the environment than things like flooding, fires, logging, overgrazing and slash and burn agriculture.
The loss of forest has caused elephants to enter villages and even towns and cities in search of food. When food supplies run low in the national parks they often venture into surrounding farming, gobbling up crops and sometimes charging farmers who attempt to get in their way. A typical problem herd has had its traditional migration route cut by an electric fence around a massive sugar plantation and is limited to a chunk of forest too small the meet its needs. The result: elephants bath in the villages lake during the day and raid sugar cane, banana and coconut crops at night.
Once an elephant’s natural range has been stripped of trees and vegetation on which the animals feed, the animals tend to eat the agricultural products that have replaced them and then dvelop a taste for them and seel . "Once elephants get used to the allure sugar cane, pady [rice], maze [corn] or even country wine they have a tendency to go for it," a wildlife official told the Washington Post.
After studying crop-destroying elephants, Sukumat concluded that: 1) bulls do more damage than females because male operate on their own and females tend to live in groups and ruling matriarchs make decisions more cautiously because members of the group of involved. 2) certain individual seem to be more fond of raiding crops than others.
"Some bulls seemed to take up residence in the vicinity of villages specifically for the purpose of raiding crops," Sukumat wrote, "there standard modus operandi was to enter after dark and depart before sunrise. Often they paired up or formed larger groups of three or four."
Methods Used by Farmers to Battle Elephant Pests
Villagers try to drive off elephants by banging pots and drums, setting off firecrackers, burning tires, waiving spears and knives, and jumping up and down. In some places towers have been erected to serve as night station. Villagers shine flashlights and bang in pot and try to make as mich noise as possible. In other places elephants have had wooden clackers strung around their necks to alert villagers if the elephant stray too close to their crops. Sometimes these methods work for a while but become increasingly less effective as the elephant becomes bolder.
Some farmer protect their fields with ancient blunderbusses loaded with rusty nails and bows and with arrows. Many get trampled to death using these methods. Others by leave fruit coated with poisonous herbs or filled with battery acid and arsenic or shoot them with poison-tipped arrows. The poison often don’t kill the elephants but slow them down so they can be killed by other means.
One villager said, "We don’t want to kill the elephants, but we are helpless and cannot just wait and watch the animals raiding your house and village at will...We do kill elephants only when we sense danger to human lives."
Karen E. Lange of National Geographic wrote: One novel answer to the problem: shimmering CDs. To keep elephants out of his irresistibly sweet sugarcane, Salakpra farmer Surachai Limpakanchanathawi took the advice of the Elephant Conservation Network and in 2007 hung CDs from fences, training spotlights on the discs. Swaying in the breeze, the illuminated CDs turned elephants around in their tracks---something single strands of electrified wire had often failed to do. Limpakanchanathawi soon abandoned the CDs for an even better method. With help from the army, his community dug a trench in an empty streambed between the forest and their fields. The ditch is 90 percent effective at halting elephants. No technique is guaranteed to work forever, though. “Elephants are intelligent,” says researcher Belinda Stewart-Cox. “They suss things out.”
Other methods used by farmer to keep elephants out their fields, reported by National Geographic, include: 1) “Triple-strand electric fences run off car batteries (highly effective); 2) Chili powder, tobacco and engine oil painted on ropes (mixed results); 3) wires hung with plastic bags to mimic electric fences (not so much); and 4) making noise or shooting fircrackers at the elephant with slingshots (hit or miss).
Relocating Problem Elephants
In Malaysia, elephants found raiding crops or occupying land owned by farmers or earmarked for plantations are captured, outfit with a radio collar so their movements can be monitored by satellite and plotted on the Web, and set free in national parks. In many cases the elephant are shot with tranquilizer guns and chained to trees until tame elephants are brought along to placate them and escorted to a truck that will take them away. Standing one side of the wild elephant is a female who soothes the beast with caresses from her trunk. On the other side is a massive bull who keeps the wild from bolting. The wild elephant is chained to the two elephants will it is loaded on the truck
In Sri Lanka, wild elephants that threaten farmers and their crops are apprehended with the help of "monitors," domesticated bull elephants specially trained to deal with drugged wild elephants. After a wild elephant has been shot with a tranquilizer gun, ropes as thick as arm are tied around its body and legs. An antidote laced with a milder tranquilizer that awakens but subdues the wild animal is given, allowing the monitor to nudge the captive backwards into a truck so it can be moved to a game park. Numbers are painted on the rumps of the wild elephants when they are let go in a national park so their progress can be monitored.
Solutions to Asian Elephants Pest Problem
The WWF has suggested that rich nations provide funds to developing countries with elephant population so that farmers whose crops have been destroyed by elephants can be compensated. Among their proposals are encouraging farmers in areas with elephants to grow crops such as cotton, jute and mustard, which the animals don't find very appetizing. The problem here is that these crops do not provide food to the villagers.
In some places trenches have been dug and electric fences have been erected to keep elephants from wandering off their migration routes. Peasant farmers, however, often fill the trenches and cuts holes in the fences to allow their cattle and other animals to feed in the forest. Electric fences are reasonably effective deterring elephants. But fences, even electrical ones, are relatively ineffective if an elephant is really determined to get through.
In some places in India trouble making elephants are captured to keep the rest of the herd way. The capture of elephants was banned in 1972 but forestry officials can order animals captured in an efforts to control unruly herds. Only as a last resort are the elephants killed. One wildlife official who said he ordered the killing of two elephants aid he dd so only after one had killed 32 people and the other killed 12 people.
Elephants Killed and Injured by Humans
Many wild elephants are badly scared by encounters with the humans. Some have bullet wounds. Others have badly swollen legs, the result of snare wires imbedded in their hide, intended to catch wild boars and deer. It is estimated that one in five elephants have serious wounds. Most of the elephants killed by poachers are male tuskers, This greatly reduces the number of males to females. According to some scientist the ratio of male to female elephants is between 1 to 11 and 1 to 18 in some places.
About 200 wild elephants are killed every year in run in with humans. Some die after their water holes are poisoned by villagers worried about losing their crops. Some are hit by trains or buses or electrocuted after hitting power lines. Other are shot by poachers for their tusks. One elephant was killed in Delhi in April 2000 after it was rear-ended by a tourist bus. The owners of the elephant sued the bus company for damages.
A number elephants have been killed by trains in the northeastern Indian state of Assam, where 295 elephants and 397 people have died in human-elephant conflicts between 1996 and 2005. There elephants are often poisoned or electrocuted by villagers angered by damage to crops and property or by elephants invading villages to drink their stores of country liquor. Once two elephants were killed when they were struck by a bus in Guwahati in Assam province as they were crossing a bridge. The bus driver was killed and several passengers were injured. Cranes had to be brought in to remove the dead elephants.
In January 2004, a group of four wild elephants that ran amok after becoming drunk off of home-brewed rice beer in the Garo Hills of Meghalaya state were electrocuted and killed after they brought down high-voltage power lines. Forest officials said the elephants stormed out of the forest after smelling the fermenting drink and drank up from the open casks of beer. The death toll could have been high. About 20 elephants moved out harms ways just as power lines came crashing down.
Vietnam’s Last Elephant Hunter
Paul Spencer Sochaczewski wrote in the International Herald Tribune: Stardom can be defined in many ways. For Ama Kong it is a number, 298, the sum of wild elephants he has captured. Now 90, with failing eyesight but still with a healthy head of hair, Ama Kong is the Michael Jordan of elephant hunters. He is, by his accounts, the second most successful elephant hunter in the country (his late uncle, Ama Krong, holds the title, with 487 animals). Ama Kong has hobnobbed with royalty and government dignitaries. He proudly shows a nasty groin scar from a tusking---a badge of honor. [Source: Paul Spencer Sochaczewski, International Herald Tribune, December 23, 2005]
And Ama Kong has his own signature brand of medicinal wine, the Vietnamese equivalent of having a sneaker named after you. The gold lettering on the wine’s striking red box reads “Good for strengthening a man’s back and kidneys,” an Asian euphemism indicating that this is a powerful sex tonic.And Ama Kong is walking proof, having sired 21 children from four wives. The tonic might also explain his fine memory, since he is able to remember the names and birthdays of his spouses and offspring, including the youngest, a curious girl of seven named H’Bup Eban, who can’t resist clambering on to dad’s lap. But there are some things that even herbal tonics can’t fix---his upper teeth are bright, intact, and obviously false compared to the red rotting stumps of his lower teeth, destroyed by years of chewing betel.
Ama Kong is likely to be the last elephant hunter superstar, since the animals are protected by Vietnamese law, fewer young people learn the skills today, and most importantly, because there are far fewer elephants around to catch.
But how exactly do you capture a wild elephant? Moving slowly (when you’re 90 arthritis seeps in, even with the help of medicinal wine) Ama Kong demonstrates the procedure. First he blows on a trumpet made of buffalo horn to seek the support of the forest spirits. He then explains how he would go into the forest with several domesticated elephants (always an odd number of animals---odd numbers indicate male power; even numbers female) and look for a herd of wild pachyderms. The domestic elephants are Judas elephants, he explains, since they are able to mingle with the wild herd, even when mahouts sit atop their necks. The group tries to isolate a baby or juvenile (“easier to train than an adult” and a whole lot easier to catch). Using a kind of cowboy lasso technique, Ama Kong shows how he would catch the prey’s foot with a rattan loop attached to a long stick. The lasso was attached to a hundred meters of handmade leather rope made from water buffalo skin, and as the baby elephant ran it would get hopelessly entangled in the trees. The domesticated elephants would then take over and escort the kidnapped baby as far as possible from the wild herd. When the elephant hunters camped at night they lit fires and beat gongs to frighten away the wild animals which had come to rescue the crying infant.
Ama Kong has also captured eight rare white elephants, which he describes as being “like the French because they have yellow eyes and fair skin”. Because of the scarcity of white elephants and their importance in Buddhist cosmology, which in turn consolidates the power of kings, these animals brought him into contact with royalty from Thailand, Laos and Cambodia. In 1996, at the age of 81, Ama Kong captured his last elephant. This was five years after his hunting ground was made into a national park and elephants were declared a protected species. “It’s a shame the government won’t let us hunt anymore,” he says. “I’m still strong enough to lead a group of hunters into the forest.”
Seven Elephants Killed in India by Speeding Train
In September 2010, seven elephants were killed in eastern India by a speeding train near Jalpaiguri in West Bengal. PTI reported: “Seven elephants were killed and one injured when a speeding goods train hit the animals while they were crossing the railway tracks near Binnaguri in Jalpaiguri district of West Bengal, Forest Department sources said. Five elephants were killed on the spot while two others succumbed to their injuries the next morning, Divisional Forest Officer (Wildlife) Sunita Ghatak said. [Source: Press Trust of India, September 23, 2011]
“A herd of elephants was crossing the railway tracks while going from Moraghat forest to Diana forest last night, when two baby elephants got trapped on the tracks, she said. When other elephants came to the rescue of the baby elephants, a goods train which was passing through at that time hit them, killing five elephants on the spot and injuring three, the DFO said. While two of the injured animals succumbed to their injuries this morning, another elephant is injured, she said.Movement of trains on the track which connects New Jalpaiguri with Assam was suspended till this morning as another herd of elephants was guarding the dead and injured elephants, the DFO said. [Ibid]
“Three months before, another elephant was run over and killed by a train near the same spot. Speeding trains often hit elephants in the area as the railway line crosses the elephant corridor, forest officials said. Railway officials have been requested a number of times to restrict the speed limit of trains plying in the area to 40-km/hr for the safety of the elephants, they said. The Forest Department has lodged an FIR under the Wildlife Protection Act against the Railways alleging that the train was running at about 70 kmph, violating the speed restriction of 25 kmph to 40 kmph in the area. [Ibid]
"The question of speed restriction does not arise since the train was not passing through the Elephant Corridor," Alipurduar Divisional Railway Manager Sachhidanand Sinha said. The elephants suddenly appeared on the track and the driver could not stop the train, he said. However, Forest Minister Ananta Roy said the Railways were not cooperating with the forest department "as it is insensitive to the issue."
The Principal Chief Conservator of Forests Atanu Raha said the train was moving so fast that it dragged an elephant to a distance of 200 metres from the spot. Raha said that accidents involving elephants had increased after conversion of the tracks from meter gauge to broad gauge. "Elephants are intelligent. When the tracks were metre gauge only a couple of passenger trains ran in a day which the elephants knew about and they avoided the tracks at such times," Raha said. Since the tracks have been converted to broad gauge, goods trains pass through at different times of the day, which has confused the pachyderms about train timings, leading to an increase in the number of accidents on the railway tracks passing through elephant corridors, he said.
Dozens of elephants have died in India in recent years after being struck while crossing railway tracks that often run through national parks and forests. Scores of wild bison, deer, boars and leopards have died in the same forest after being hit by trains, an official said.
Image Sources: Wikimedia Commons
Text Sources: National Geographic, Natural History magazine, Smithsonian magazine, Wikipedia, New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Times of London, The Guardian, Top Secret Animal Attack Files website, The New Yorker, Time, Newsweek, Reuters, AP, AFP, The Economist, BBC, and various books and other publications.
Last updated November 2012