March 2, 2006

Indonesia uses chillies to protect elephants

By Ade Rina

JAKARTA (Reuters) - They've tried everything from sticks
and stones to bullets to keep elephants away from their crops.

But after years of failing to keep elephants from ravaging
their plantations, Indonesian farmers are now using newer and
more unique methods such as fiery African chillies tied to wire
fences to deter the animals.

"The smell stops elephants from coming anywhere close to
the farmland," said Tahirudin Hasan, administration chief of
southern Sumatra's Way Kambas National Park, best known for its
elephant training center.

"Some NGOs are helping us handle elephants that enter
farms," he told Reuters. "They help us place torches in farms
and put African chillies on the wire of farmland. As a result,
the number of elephants coming to farms has been reduced."

African chillies are the latest weapon in the battle to
keep farmers happy while conserving Sumatran elephants, the
smallest of the Asian elephants, whose numbers have fallen
dramatically in recent years because of increasing encroachment
of their habitat.

As part of the new conservation efforts, rangers and
residents also use such traditional and more animal-friendly
methods as bamboo torches and beating bamboo or wooden drums to
drive elephants back to the forest.

In the past, villagers either shot or poisoned elephants,
who often stray out of national parks and ravage plantations
and houses in their search for food.

According to the Riau Natural Resources and Conservation
Body, the number of Sumatran elephants dwindled to about 400 in
2003 from more than 1,000 in 1985 because of deforestation,
forest fires and conversion of forests to plantations.

Indonesia is not alone. The number of elephants across Asia
is down to 60,000 from 150,000 two decades ago because Asia's
growing economies and human populations fuel demand for land
and other resources, destroying the elephants' habitat and
placing them at greater risk of direct confrontation with


Conservationists have been pressing the more than one dozen
Asian nations that have elephants populations to better protect
the animals, which are on the verge of extinction in some

In Indonesia, animal rights experts say conservation
efforts are paying off and incidents of conflict between
elephants and humans have dropped.

"Usually when the elephants entered farmland, they were
killed instantly or they were shot and poisoned," said
Desmarita Murni, a species expert with the Jakarta office of
the conservation group WWF, which is working in Tesso Nillo
park in southern Sumatra.

"Our work focuses on how to reduce the conflict between
elephants and humans ... We cannot blame elephants as it is
their instinct to look for food and forest areas are getting

Tesso Nillo is one of the island's largest remaining forest
tracts and home to an increasingly threatened elephant

As part of the conservation efforts, WWF has a helicopter
that patrols the sprawling Tesso Nillo park, home to about 90
elephants, and alerts trainers whenever it sees a herd heading
out of the forest.

Authorities stepped up conservation efforts at the park
after a 2000-2003 survey revealed elephants had caused damage
worth 2 billion rupiah ($218,000) to adjacent farmland.

The efforts followed the success of Indonesia's elephant
training program launched in Way Kambas in the mid-1980s. This
involved using trained elephants for tourism, such as park
safaris in Way Kambas, home to around 50 types of mammals,
including 250 elephants.

"Last year during the Way Kambas festival we had elephant
soccer and an elephant swimming race," said Hasan.

"This is an effort to protect the elephants. We try to show
the people that they can be useful too."