Indonesia uses chillies to keep elephants away from crops
JAKARTA, Mar 4: They've tried everything from sticks and stones to bullets to keep elephants away from their crops.
But after years of failing to keep elephants from ravaging their plantations, Indonesian farmers are now using newer and more unique methods such as fiery African chillies tied to wire fences to deter the animals.
''The smell stops elephants from coming anywhere close to the farmland,'' said Tahirudin Hasan, administration chief of southern Sumatra's Way Kambas National Park, best known for its elephant training centre.
''Some NGOs are helping us handle elephants that enter farms,'' he told Reuters. ''They help us place torches in farms and put African chillies on the wire of farmland. As a result, the number of elephants coming to farms has been reduced.'' African chillies are the latest weapon in the battle to keep farmers happy while conserving Sumatran elephants, the smallest of the Asian elephants, whose numbers have fallen dramatically in recent years because of increasing encroachment of their habitat.
As part of the new conservation efforts, rangers and residents also use such traditional and more animal-friendly methods as bamboo torches and beating bamboo or wooden drums to drive elephants back to the forest.
In the past, villagers either shot or poisoned elephants, who often stray out of national parks and ravage plantations and houses in their search for food.
According to the Riau Natural Resources and Conservation Body, the number of Sumatran elephants dwindled to about 400 in 2003 from more than 1,000 in 1985 because of deforestation, forest fires and conversion of forests to plantations.
Indonesia is not alone. The number of elephants across Asia is down to 60,000 from 150,000 two decades ago because Asia's growing economies and human populations fuel demand for land and other resources, destroying the elephants' habitat and placing them at greater risk of direct confrontation with people.
Conservationists have been pressing the more than one dozen Asian nations that have elephants populations to better protect the animals, which are on the verge of extinction in some countries.
In Indonesia, animal rights experts say conservation efforts are paying off and incidents of conflict between elephants and humans have dropped.
''Usually when the elephants entered farmland, they were killed instantly or they were shot and poisoned,'' said Desmarita Murni, a species expert with the Jakarta office of the conservation group WWF, which is working in Tesso Nillo park in southern Sumatra.
''Our work focuses on how to reduce the conflict between elephants and humans ... We cannot blame elephants as it is their instinct to look for food and forest areas are getting smaller.'' Tesso Nillo is one of the island's largest remaining forest tracts and home to an increasingly threatened elephant population.
As part of the conservation efforts, WWF has a helicopter that patrols the sprawling Tesso Nillo park, home to about 90 elephants, and alerts trainers whenever it sees a herd heading out of the forest.
Authorities stepped up conservation efforts at the park after a 2000-2003 survey revealed elephants had caused damage worth 2 billion rupiah (8,000) dollars to adjacent farmland.
The efforts followed the success of Indonesia's elephant training programme launched in Way Kambas in the mid-1980s.
This involved using trained elephants for tourism, such as park safaris in Way Kambas, home to around 50 types of mammals, including 250 elephants.
''Last year during the Way Kambas festival we had elephant soccer and an elephant swimming race,'' said Hasan.
''This is an effort to protect the elephants. We try to show the people that they can be useful too.''