How To: Protect your livelihood from wild animals

No pushover/Photo: World Wildlife Fund

People and wildlife have never been in greater competition for limited resources as human populations invade shrinking natural habitats in a fight for living space, food and water. In this vignette of a planet-wide battle, IRIN looks at how to keep elephants away from your crops and raiding monkeys out of your food stores.

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Human-wildlife conflict (HWC) threatens the continued survival of a growing number of species, and more and more often is presenting a significant hazard to crops, livestock, property, and even lives.

“The increasing conflict is related to human development needs, demographic expansion and extended agricultural practices,” René Czudek, Forestry and Wildlife Officer at the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) in Southern Africa, told IRIN.

There are no global figures available on crop losses, but “to the family concerned, the loss of a patch of maize to raiding elephants can mean the loss of their food supply for a year; the difference between self-sufficiency and being destitute,” Czudek said.

With the world’s human population expanding by some 75 million a year, people and wildlife are both squeezed for space. Africa, which has the largest reserves of wildlife is particularly at risk because its people are expected to double from one to two billion in the next 40 years, according to FAO.

The good news is that HWC has been around for a very long time. In a joint effort, FAO, the Agricultural Research for Development Centre (CIRAD), the Communal Areas Management Programme for Indigenous Resources, the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) and other partners are tapping into centuries of experience across the continent to create a Human-Wildlife Conflict Toolkit.

“It’s about finding ways to save livelihoods and the animals,” said George Mapuvire of BIO-HUB, a CIRAD project funded by the French government, who is leading tests of the kit in Zimbabwe. The suggested methods, tailored to specific communities and species, should lead to mutually beneficial co-existence, he said. The solutions are often as creative as they are simple.

Offer a sandwich that bites back

Baboons are intelligent and crafty; they can raid human dwellings and are often considered an agricultural pest. Are these pillaging apes giving you a hard time? Booby-trap some bread.

“Baboons which enter vehicles or buildings to steal food may be deterred by placing a snake, preferably a live one, or a look-alike replica, in a closed loaf of bread with the soft inner removed,” the toolkit suggests.

“The offending baboon, seizing the opportunity, grabs it without the customary caution usually displayed by primates, discovers the snake and faints … hopefully learning its lesson!”

Get them drunk

More persistent baboons will need to be relocated. The kit recommends getting them “drunk and incapacitated”, which is cheap, easy and non-lethal. Mapuvire notes that this is more cost-effective than bringing in rangers with tranquilizer dart guns, and can be carried out with locally available products.

Once the “problem animals” become accustomed to the taste of Mahewu – a local non-alcoholic brew – it is “beefed up with concentrated alcohol in the region of 90 percent, which the baboons don’t detect”. When the animal passes out it can be safely relocated.

Give them a chilli reception

Elephants spell disaster to many rural Africans. They raid crops, destroy homes and livelihoods, and sometimes even take lives. Elephants eat up to 450kg of food per day – from leaves, grass and twigs to crops – and uproot, scatter and trample as much as is eaten. FAO estimates that the annual cost of elephant raids on crops in Africa ranges from $60 (Uganda) to $510 (Cameroon) per affected farmer.

Angry farmers often kill elephants in retaliation and, according to WWF, wildlife authorities in Kenya shoot between 50 and 120 problem elephants every year.

So, how do you drive a full-grown six-tonne bull elephant off your property? Well, elephants hate chilli pepper. It can be grown around crops that elephants like to eat; twine can be painted with a mixture of chilli pepper and old engine oil and strung up around fields, or the chilli pepper can be burnt with elephant dung to produce a pungent smoke.

Slightly more dramatic is the trademarked “Mhiripiri Bomber”, a plastic gun that shoots balls containing a highly concentrated chilli solution. Fired at a trespassing elephant the ball bursts on impact, “liberating the pepper over its body”, the kit says.

The accompanying information reads: “The area struk is investigated by the trunk, in so doing it takes in the papper. For this reason, it is suspected that elephant are affected more than any other animal.”

Blind them

Hippos, like elephants, are fond of raiding crops by night, but can be deterred by strong flashlights. “The brighter the light the better, which must be turned on at the last moment as close to the animal as possible,” the toolkit recommends. Caution should be exercised because hippos are unpredictable, and may charge instead of running away.

Stink them out

Certain species of wildlife, especially bush pigs, are sensitive to strong scents and are successfully repelled by them, Mapuvire said.

“The pungent smell emanating from burning old tyres or old engine oil” is particularly effective, the tool kit says. However, “this should not be carried out routinely … rather have everything ready and then fire it up when the animals enter [the cleared area].”

The cosmetics industry offers another solution: “Bush pigs are so sensitive to smell that they may also be repelled by using strong scented perfumes and soap, sprayed every two metres around the crop,” the kit suggests.

Employ a donkey or wildebeest

Training guard dogs is a good way to warn of approaching predators and keep them at bay. Having dogs grow up with and follow a herd of cattle has proved very effective, Mapuvire said. The toolkit says, “In Namibia, wildebeest have been used in the same way and are raised as orphans to protect livestock.”

Why settle for a dog if you can get a donkey to the job? According to FAO, in some parts of Kenya donkeys are used to drive off large carnivores like lions, cheetahs and hyenas by braying, biting and kicking. “The carnivores do not like them, and particularly the noise they make when they feel the carnivores approach,” Czudek said.

Fence yourself in

Reports from Zambia and Mozambique conclude that crocodiles are responsible for the greatest number of human deaths attributable to animals, with an estimated 300 annual fatalities in Mozambique alone, FAO said.

The tool kit advises strong fencing at watering points, but points out that crocodiles are less likely to attack humans or livestock in places where there are abundant fish stocks. Avoiding over-fishing would thus be one way of reducing the danger of being eaten.

These examples are by no means all-encompassing. Once completed and thoroughly tested, the Human-Wildlife Conflict Toolkit will offer a wide range of solutions to dealing with HWC – from high-tech GPS tracking collars on lions to noisy tin cans filled with pebbles; from soft approaches like shouting, to lethal cyanide poison.

Mapuvire said the best way to reduce conflict between wild animals and humans was to educate farmers and villagers. Awareness and training people to co-exist with wild animals is fundamental to the use of the HWC Toolkit.

Czudek said training had been “organized so far for wildlife practicioners/extensionists from Zimbabwe, Zambia, Malawi, Mozambique and Botswana, and the toolkit is being tested in these countries”.

An online version, open to comment and suggestion, was anticipated for August 2010 and requests had already come in for translations into French, Portuguese and other languages widely spoken in Africa.


[This report does not necessarily reflect the views of the United Nations]