Born Free Foundation - Keep Wildlife in the Wild

Human Elephant Conflict, Sri Lanka

Farmers look out post

Shrinking elephant habitats and expanding human populations mean people and elephants increasingly come into contact.  Elephants can be dangerous to humans, and can devastate crops and buildings. 

Each year 50 people in Sri Lanka are killed by elephants and over 100 elephants are killed by farmers defending their crops, which can result in orphan elephants (see ETH).  Born Free works to humanely reduce human elephant conflict and promote practical and inexpensive ways to help people protect themselves and their crops.  This includes better fencing, deterrent crops (eg chillies) and early warning systems. 

Supported by Born Free, the Sri Lankan Wildlife Conservation Society is working with local communities in Wasgamuwa to provide orange trees for villagers – a sustainable source of income and a crop that elephants do not raid or trample.

Conflict Workshop

Elephant Resistant Crops

In 2009/10 Born Free provided support for a local NGO, the National Environmental Forum, to launch a project to promote the farming of Elephant Resistant Crops (ERCs). The project, run in Pallegama in Central Sri Lanka, is intended to provide local farmers with an economic buffer to their annual income loss for elephant crop depredation. By growing crops that elephants do not eat, they ensure that even in the face of persistent elephant raids, they will still have a secure income to rely on.

The detailed picture of Human Elephant Conflict (HEC) varies with the geographical region, and likewise the viable crops that elephants do not feed on differs according to location. Initial  research revealed around 10 cash crops as elephant-resistant, and the crops with the best local income were selected for cultivation.

The farmers who took part in the project were able to have a good harvest and thus a good income after the first year (mid 2010). Except for about 5% crop damage from trampling by elephants, these crops showed no signs of being selectively damaged or eaten by elephants. More local farmers are now keen to try establishing ERCs after seeing the project results.

We felt that sharing this experience with the HEC affected communities locally, regionally and perhaps internationally would help both the parties of conflict (humans and elephants!). We developed a proposal for making an advocacy film, which resulted in the production of Thibbatu : A deterrent berry. The Organization for Visual Progression (OVP) – a nonprofit organization dedicated to providing individuals and organizations working for social justice with opportunities to create and utilize visual media in their campaigns – provided the technical support (www.visualprogression.org).

Thibbatu (Solunum violaceum ortega) was one of the crops found to be elephant resistant following the initial research. This berry vegetable has a good, stable income year round. Being a crop that can be easily propagated and needs limited attention to cultivate, thibbatu is favoured by the local farmers. 

See the video below

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