Chilli gun helps protect elephants

A chilli pepper solution, which is said to be 50 times stronger than Tabasco, is central to a new conservation project aimed at preventing the elephants of Chirundu being destroyed as pests.

Elephants that have become habituated to human settlement in and around the border town have, over the years, become a nuisance, regularly raiding dustbins and houses for food and sometimes causing a great deal of damage to property. Seen as a danger to human life, they have often been shot as “problem animals” by the Parks and Wildlife Management Department.

But last year a new approach to solving this problem (and at the same time sparing the lives of the elephants) was implemented by a group called the Chirundu Elephant Programme, spearheaded by Aaron Young using technology developed by Mike le Grange, a Zimbabwean expert in human-wildlife conflict. Nic and Iona Coetzee, owners of Jecha Point Fishing Lodge just downstream of Chirundu became involved. Not wanting the local elephant population to be destroyed, they developed what, on the surface, seems to be a simple plan: chase the “problem” animals out of town using a specially-developed “gun” which fires a strong deterrent spray of chilli-pepper oil, until they get the message and stop coming back.

This turned out to be not quite so easy. No sooner had one lot of elephants been “moved on” than another group of young bulls took their place! To create a virtual barrier around the town that the elephants know they must not cross sometimes involves up to 19 hours of overnight patrolling!

It’s hard work, but the effort is paying off. Young reports that not a single Chirundu elephant has had to be destroyed in the past year. Elephants are fast learners and extremely intelligent. They have learned to recognise the “chilli-pepper” vehicle on duty in town, and will not come near it. But if they see it parked at Jecha Point, just a few kilometres away, where they know there is no threat, they happily ignore it.

Post published in: Environment

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