Frontier Elephants: From Forests to Crop-fields
- By Nicole Pinto
09 Oct 2019
The Frontier Elephant Programme (FEP) began as a quest to understand the behaviour of Asian elephants: both as individuals and as members of a group. To learn about their behavioural habits, we studied their environment, sociality, movement patterns, etc., and in doing so, soon arrived at farms and villages situated near forests that elephants would frequent in search of food
These farms are often owned by small landowners whose only source of income is from the crops they grow. As the numbers of elephants leaving the forest to forage on crops increases, the once peaceful relationship that humans and elephants shared grew strained.
This led to the expansion of the scope of the programme to include the creation of communities where humans and elephants can peacefully coexist through the adoption of conflict-mitigation measures and empowerment of local communities.
Since encounters that farmers have with elephants usually occur at night, as elephants feel safer foraging under the cover of darkness and when there is the least amount of human activity, farmers usually spend the entire night in machans in trees to drive elephants away. Farmers coordinate with one another since their farms are situated close to each other so that when one farmer spots an elephant, he will usually send a text message to warn farmers further away.
Sometimes farmers do not spot elephants until they are fairly near, posing a great risk to themselves. To prevent this, we have set up early warning systems to alert farmers of the presence of elephants before they reach the crop-fields, giving them some time to reach a safe place and also prepare themselves to protect their crops.
To prevent elephants from entering fields, we propose setting up temporary fences. As elephants mostly enter fields close to harvest season, when plants have the highest nutritional content, setting up a fence only during this period ensures that they do not get accustomed to the fence or learn how to cross it.
During this long-term project, we will work with farmers who have opted to be part of the programme to collaboratively design various mitigation measures that they can undertake. In time, we hope that they will be able to train more groups of farmers to independently set up similar structures.
A trap camera installed along the forest boundary