Setting up an organic smelly repellent fence

Field Report by Intern Jasper Scofield-Smith, Elephants and Bees Project 

A bucket full of Cow dung, a few shovels of rotting eggs, handfuls of ginger and garlic and some green neem leaves may not sound like a gourmet meal, but that’s what the Elephants and Bees team have been cooking up for the last three weeks, and they believe it could be the recipe for success they have been looking for.

As you can imagine, rotten eggs and cow dung doesn’t smell very nice. And that’s exactly why it’s useful to STE. Over the past month, the team has been setting up an experiment, to see if this foul smelling concoction can deter elephants from entering farmland and damaging farmer’s crops. 

First trialled in Uganda, conservationists are attempting to use elephant’s excellent sense of smell to deter them from crop-raiding. If successful, this could provide an affordable and accessible protection for local farmers in Sagalla. STE have begun trials to test the efficacy of the repellent fences in Sagalla, in partnership and with the support of WildAid Africa. 

This innovative idea was discovered by a group of Ugandan students, tasked with solving an issue that has plighted their local community. The mixture is a combination of ingredients both locally available and known to be disliked by elephants, and so far trials are proving promising.

The repellent can come in the form of a spray, however, STE will be testing the effectiveness of a smelly repellent fence. A single barbed wire fence will surround the test site, with bottles of repellent hung at intervals. Holes will then allow the smell to flood out when the wire is knocked, hopefully creating enough displeasure to send a hungry elephant on its way. With farmers sourcing their own plastic bottles, the fences may also offer a good way to reuse and recycle plastic waste in the area.

The last of ten test sites has know been completed, with the aim of finding out just how effective this method can be. With the peak crop-raiding season now fully underway, there is the hope that this can provide much needed protection to subsistence farmers. 

After identifying a set of farms regularly visited by crop raiding elephants, the team and I set about an all action week of construction. Working in pairs, we used locally welded hand diggers to prepare the holes for the posts, a sweaty job in 30 degree heat! 

While the building was a physical challenge, the next step would be mental. To withstand the manhandling and pouring of a liquid that smells so bad it can repel a hungry 2 tonne bull elephant. The strong smells fermenting eggs, garlic and dung are not like any other smell I have experienced before, so setting up the fences has been a true test of mind over matter. I’ve never been so glad to wear a mask! Despite the initial repulsion, by the end of a day’s work our noses had grown accustomed to the rank potion, and with the fences built we could rush to a well-deserved bucket shower. 

Given the cheap and readily available nature of the ingredients, this new eco-friendly technique is a really exciting development in the field of human-elephant conflict. In an issue where no one solution can provide a total solution, another form of protection like this will surely prove extremely valuable. 

Thank you so much to Disney DCF for funding this project!


Photo credits: Jasper Scofield-Smith

The views, opinions and position expressed in this article belong solely to the author/s and do not necessarily reflect the policy and position of Save the Elephants

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