Darwin Initiative

AHP Community
Community involvement
Fence around village


Chilli smoker

Tripwire switch
Electric fence construction
Making a chilli smoker

Cartoons by Alan Hesse

Community-Based Conservation

The Assam Haathi Project works with communities affected by elephant crop-raiding or damage to property. In consultation with the Assam Forest Department, our project approached those communities most severely affected by wild elephants, and has over the past five years built collaborative relationships with those communities. Together we develop methods for protecting crops and buildings in the first instance, as an emergency measure, planning, discussing, implementing and adapting these measures together. At a later stage we then begin to discuss elephants in a different light - their behaviours and survival needs, and how we may prevent elephants from becoming extinct.  Assamese people belong to a variety of ethnic groups, but for most, elephants have a respected place in culture and religion.
We use a variety of measures to protect crops and buildings from elephants. Some of these build on local ideas and knowledge, while others are adaptations from ideas from other good projects in southern Asia and Africa. Below are the main mitigation techniques we currently use, although these are occasionally modified and often used in combination with one another.  All our methods use locally available materials and most are locally affordable (i.e. not donor-dependent). This is very important, as it makes the methods transferable – neighboring communities can copy these methods without having to wait for a conservation project or local authorities to come and help them. The measures we currently use include:

Trip Wire Alarm
A length of wire is strung between poles and trees at elephant-shoulder height, to surround the area to be protected. The wire is connected to an alarm in the village. Elephants crop-raiding at night bump into the wire and set off the alarm. This allows villagers to react quickly (and most importantly, before the elephants have entered the village) and drive them away with flashlights.

As with trip wires, high watchtowers built at the edge of a village give an early warning to the presence of elephants allowing extra time to react and implement active deterrent techniques.

Burning torches have been traditionally used by villagers to chase elephants. We provide communities with portable, bright searchlights which, if shone at elephants, drive them to go away. We assemble these rechargeable lights from local materials so that they can be maintained as needed and have improved the design to withstand the fluctuations in the local electricty supply.

Electric Fencing
Although more expensive, solar-powered electric fencing is very effective for protecting vulnerable areas such as isolated hamlets prone to crop-raiding, or communal granaries. We currently have electric fences installed at four sites.

Chilli, a locally available cash crop, can be used in different ways to deter elephants. Chilli mixed with grease and smeared onto ropes makes an effective barrier, and burnt chilli produces a smoke which also deters elephants. The AHP has established chilli nurseries to provide seedlings to the affected communities. Chilli also has potential added value as a cash crop for supplementary income.

All our mitigation methods have been detailed in a practical handbook "Living with Elephants in Assam"; which is aimed at communities negatively affected by elephants.

In addition to this emergency assistance, the Assam Haathi Project also works with communities on long-term approaches to managing human-elephant conflict, such as:

  • Training in the cultivation and marketing of cash crops - this provides alternative incomes and reduces the dependency on subsistence crops such as rice, that are prone to damage by elephants
  • Training and advice for micro-credit for self-help groups to develop small enterprises
  • Guidance for government compensation and insurance schemes – documentation and processes are often complicated and usually in English
  • A Help Centre in each of our two project areas, as a resource centre for information, advice, materials and equipment
  • Education & awareness – talks and training workshops about the consequences of unsustainable natural resource use and options for communities to support conservation efforts

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