New Chili Fences Deter Elephants by Tracking Manager Wilson Sairowua
Mara Elephant Project has been responding to an increasing number of human-elephant conflict situations in the Mara since the rain has stopped and crops have ripened. The area of Munyas has experienced some of the worst conflict in all of our area of operation. Elephants are staging in the safety of the Enongishu Conservancy during the day and moving into farms at night. It’s suspected that this was the area where MEP collared elephant, Bobo, was speared last year.
MEP rangers responding on the ground to human-elephant conflict in Munyas.
In response, MEP has sent additional rangers, along with our new David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust Land Rover, to the area to help mitigate this conflict. We’ve also erected a new seven-foot long chili fence along the elephant corridor to deter the elephants from entering the farms. This year MEP erected 5.3 km of chili fences in Munyas, within the area highlighted in the Google Earth image below.
Chili fences are built using recycled motor oil and chili powder that recycled fabric is then dipped in and hung on a fence made of sisal rope and posts that have been erected in the ground. The elephant’s sensitive sense of smell finds the chili fence a strong deterrent from crop raiding.
A chili fence is a vital tool in the MEP HEC Toolkit, but simply erecting one is not enough. MEP rangers who were previously trained on how to erect chili fences by Tanzanian farmers in 2015 are also tasked with training the community on how to maintain the fence and create more in the areas necessary. The purpose of the training is to transfer this knowledge to the local community and scale the chili fence-building project on an annual basis. In preparation for the training, the rangers sourced the materials needed including old clothes and sheets for making the ‘flags’ on the fences, and the chili powder and sisal rope were purchased in Narok. The old engine oil came from the MEP workshop, Olare Orok Conservancy HQ and Saruni Lodge. The farmers supplied the posts for the fences as their contribution to the project.
In addition to erecting this fence, we also trained 170 community members so that they too can protect their precious crops from hungry elephants. The workshop was lead by six MEP rangers who were assisted by four community members. The farmers and rangers gathered at the training site, which was a demonstration farm that had been chosen by MEP due to the recent human-elephant conflict activity.
MEP rangers leading the training.
The rangers explained that the chili mixture needed to be re-applied every 21 days if there is no rain and once a week during the rains. They then demonstrated that the posts need to be dug 4 meters apart and the proper mixture ratio of oil to chili powder. A section of 20 meters of rope was cut and dipped into the chili mix while holding the middle so the rope does not tangle. The rope is then fixed to the posts in three strands 2 meters apart, with the lowest strand 3 feet off the ground (so baby elephants cannot get under) and the highest strand at 5 feet above the ground. The cloth is then cut into square pieces, which is then dipped into the chili mixture and tied to the chili-soaked string in the middle of the two posts (4 meters apart). The total cost of the fence was 275,000 Kenyan shillings or around $2,650.
During the workshop farmers were able to ask questions about how to seek support when elephants come into their farms. They requested chili seed from Tanzanian so that they could start growing their own plants. They also requested that MEP continue to support them with the chili fences when the growing season started again. MEP will erect further chili fences in the area during the next crop season and will support the farmers by maintaining the current fence. We also supplied the farmers with the materials needed so that they could build chili fences around their farms following the workshops.
MEP ranger John Leshan is currently in charge of the chili fence team in Munyas and we hope as the month of June progresses; this will be a good solution for both the elephant and community’s safety.