Scat Attack

How some farmers are using elephant dung fumes to keep tuskers away from fields
It Happens
STINK BOMB Elephants detest the pungent smoke of their own dung mixed with chillies on fire

Fed up with elephant herds marauding their fields, farmers in southern Karnataka had tried many things to protect their crops. They had dug trenches, made fences, burst crackers, set off small bush fires, beaten drums and even screamed their lungs out to fend off the animals. They even decided to apply chilli paste to ropes barricading fields. But despite the aversion of elephants to the pungent smell of chillies, it was only partly successful. Some still managed to pull down the ropes and stomp into the fields. But it set K Shivanna thinking.

He undertook another experiment two years ago by mixing dried elephant poop with powdered chillies and setting the mix alight when herds were spotted. It worked so well that soon peasants from Sollepura village near HD Kote, a known man-animal conflict zone, were using this formula. “It was like a tear-gas attack for elephants. The strong and pungent smoke drove them away,” says Shivanna.

Now, every season when crops ripen, locals use the method. As the area is an elephant corridor, there is never a shortage of raw material. “We collect the week-old dried dung and mix it with a 100 kg of chillies that are ground into a semi-paste. The moment someone spots elephants, the dung is lit up. They move away from the village, trumpeting loudly, as if in protest,” says Shivanna. Of course, the herds do come back, but villagers then beat drums, light crackers and even leave battery-operated FM radios playing music on trees to give the impression that there are humans around.

Villagers say the forest department does not help them. Forest officials have another view. “We tell them not to grow commercial crops in large quantities as they live in buffer zones of national parks. It attracts animals, especially elephants. They also have no ownership on the land they cultivate. It is better for them to shift out,” says a forest official.

On average, he receives 60 petitions complaining of crop losses a year. “These villagers also kill elephants by poisoning or electrocuting them,’’ he says.

Farmers living on the fringes of forests in Coorg, Hassan and Chamarajanagar districts are now copying Shivanna’s dung formula with some success.