Unpalatable Crops to Mitigate the Human Elephant Conflict

Timeline- 18 months

Required Funds- LKR 6,457,250.00

The Human-elephant conflict (HEC) is a major conservation challenge, with crop raiding being a prominent issue in Asian and African elephant range countries. In Sri Lanka specifically, HEC is recognised as the principal threat to the conservation and survival of wild Asian elephants. Increasing human populations and much-needed post-war development are unfortunately seeing humans and elephants pushed into ever-increasing proximity to each other and thus, conflict is on the rise, endangering the safety and lives of both elephants and humans.

HEC in Sri Lanka is attributed to issues that arise primarily when elephants interfere with the local agriculture. Hence, the main cause of conflict between elephants and humans is via crop raiding. Interestingly, most preventive schemes look at only reducing and mitigating HEC rather than trying to understand what lies as the core cause of this conflict. This study explores an alternative livelihood strategy that may be the ultimate and most fruitful solution to the prevailing HEC in Sri Lanka.

It has been established that certain crop varieties are less palatable for elephants, notably, research has concluded that elephants avoid chili (Capsicum annum) and citrus fruits with field trials conducted with success, with a variety of orange known as Bibile Sweet (Citrus sinesis).


Proposed Study

Is okra unpalatable for elephants?

Based on regular inquiries on elephant incidents amongst 40 households in the Devaragiriya village over a 14-month period (January 2017 – March 2018), it was found that elephants avoid foraging on Okra (Abelmoschus esculentus).

The Devaragiriya village is a HEC hotspot, where elephants enter the village year-round to raid crops directly from farms and on instance, do break into houses to access stored harvests. Since 2014, more than 350 elephant incidents have been reported with damage occurring approximately 70% of the time. Therefore, the avoidance of feeding on okra crops is of interest and is worthwhile to explore as a possible crop that is not palatable/favoured by elephants.

Are sunflowers unpalatable for Asian elephants?

A controlled experiment exploring crop varieties that are not palatable for elephants in the lower Sagalla region in Kenya established that Sunflower (Helianthus) is a viable non-palatable crop for the African elephant (Loxodonta). Weinmann (2018) established that there was a significant difference in the rate of damage to sunflower crops comparative to other more favoured crop varieties such as maize.

For the Sri Lankan context, this would be an experimental study that has not been tested previously, and this would be the first study of its kind to explore if sunflowers can be recognised as an unpalatable crop for Asian elephants (Elephas maximus).

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