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African elephants are wreaking havoc on farms in Tanzania © Gerard D. Hertel, West Chester University,

It’s good news for the savanna ecosystem that the elephant population of East Africa has increased in recent years, but bad news for farmers whose crops are being devoured by these giant pests. Wildlife services’ successful anti-poaching campaigns and an increased designation of land to national parks has helped elephant population numbers to recover. However, with the concurrent expansion of farmland, there are now more frequent encounters between man and beast.

Fields of maize and watermelon have been hit hardest as they are more tasty and nutritious for the elephants than dry grass. Farmers have tried many different tactics to scare off the elephants – using flashlights, banging saucepans, even lighting fires. These techniques have had little effect on discouraging the pesky pachyderms. One researcher of human-elephant conflict from the Tanzania Wildlife Research Institute has worked with farmers and found a successful elephant repellant.

The new solution is simple yet surprisingly effective – construct a chilli fence. Fences are painted with a concoction of chilli mixed with engine oil; elephants trying to get into the field are put off at the edge as the chilli makes them sneeze. Farmers who have started using these fences have noticed elephants walking up to the boundary, and then turning round once they detect the chilli. The Udzungwa Elephant Project in the east of Tanzania has reported mixed results following heavy downpours that require reapplication of the chilli-oil, but work with local farmers continues to develop the method. The technique has now spread to 31 villages in Tanzania with a plan to encourage practice nationwide.

Source: Henshall, A. (2012) Elephants now think twice about midnight snacks in Tanzania. The Wall Street Journal. Available from:

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