In our 15th Anantara Hotels Resorts & Spas #ElephantProfessional lecture, Dr Lydia Tiller took us to Kenya to see her work in measuring and mitigating human-elephant conflicts, as well as promoting coexistence with these giants.
The human-elephant conflict toolbox
Working in Samburu, Kenya for Save the Elephants, a top-notch research organisation of the African elephant, Dr Tiller is devoted to resolving the human-elephant conflicts.
Beehives and elephant repellent used to prevent crop-raiding by elephants. Screenshots from Dr Tiller’s powerpoint
In her research work with the beehive fences, the research team found out that 80% of the potential crop raids in the area had been deterred after putting up beehives along the boundaries.
Another elephant repellent that she had tested was an odorant developed by a group of students and experimented by WildAid and Uganda Conservation Foundation. By grinding and mixing ginger, chili, garlic and cow/elephant dung with water, the mixture can then be brewed for two weeks and either hung in a container or sprayed directly on the plants. The strong pungent odor had been observed to drive the elephants away without harming them.
Similar strategies, including switching to unpalatable drought-resistant crops like sunflower and chili, and condensing plantation in smaller gardens and pots, had also yielded positive results in her researched populations.
Watchtowers and elephant tracking. Screenshots from Dr Tiller’s powerpoint
In Asian countries like Nepal – where Dr Tiller had previously worked at – watchtowers have long played a role as an early detection and warning system. These are beginning to stem beside the ploughed soil across the African continent as well. A similar alternative of this is geo-fencing, where a large operation team works jointly to put collars on elephants and subsequently track their real-time location.
On top of mitigation-based conservation strategies, Dr Tiller also emphasized the work to empower the local communities. For example, by introducing the women to beekeeping and basket-weaving, it has opened windows for alternative livelihoods. On the other hand, by taking the local children to national parks for environmental education, they could finally see the non-destructive side of the elephants and understood the importance of elephant conservation.
Elephants in Kenya
“ With more innovation and with more empathy towards each other, we believe that we can make move from a state of conflict to a state of coexistence. ”Dr Lydia Tiller
Kenya has doubled its elephant population since the 90s and is now home to 34,800 elephants, according to Kenya Wildlife Service. And in Tsavo, Kenya, where Dr Tiller has conducted much of her research work, she and her team counted a staggering 13,000 individuals in 2017.
“The good news is that [African elephant] populations are recovering and poaching is no longer the biggest threat to elephants [in Tsavo], and this is due to the combined effort of wildlife authorities and different organizations,” explained Dr Tiller.
However, the elephants are still not completely safe from human-elephant conflicts, where the migrating communities frequently find themselves in a sticky situation while looking for food and water.
For example, the Mombasa road that spans hundreds of kilometers has been cutting the elephants’ route of migration. Although Kenya has installed underpasses for elephants to safely cross the road, its effectiveness has been undercut by the fact that there are only six underpasses over the stretch of 134 kilometers. Other times, these hungry trunks simply pull themselves towards the cash crops planted by the already vulnerable farmers and villagers.
“With more innovation and with more empathy towards each other, we believe that we can make move from a state of conflict to a state of coexistence,” concluded Dr Tiller.
You can now watch the full lecture here.
Disclaimer: the views and opinions expressed by the speaker do not necessarily represent Golden Triangle Asian Elephant Foundation.