Sept. 24 - Using a system of sensors and speakers, researchers in California are exploiting elephants' natural survival instincts to stop them encroaching on farms and villages in India. By fooling the elephants into believing there are predators nearby, the researchers say crops and lives can be saved. Ben Gruber reports.
This elephant is about to trespass onto a farm in rural India...that is, until he hears a tiger's growl. (UPSOUND GROWL) But what the elephant doesn't know is that there was no tiger. The growl he heard was a recording, triggered by sensors that detected his presence…set up as part of an experiment by animal behavioural scientist Vivek Thuppil. (SOUNDBITE) (English) VIVEK THUPPIL, ANIMAL BEHAVIOUR SCIENTIST, UC DAVIS, SAYING: "With tiger growls they are out of there, they're gone. They hear the sound and they back away almost instantaneously and they don't make any sound when they are doing it. They retreat very silently. They're like 'Ok I'm just going to step away here and hope the tiger didn't see me." Thuppil also tested recordings of leopard growls. He says the tests showed that elephants could differentiate between the leopard and the tiger and while leopards are not an elephant's natural predator, uncertainty drove the big animals into retreat. (SOUNDBITE) (English) VIVEK THUPPIL, ANIMAL BEHAVIOUR SCIENTIST, UC DAVIS, SAYING: "Uncertainty is very powerful, especially if it comes to something that can hurt or kill you. And that is why the elephants never walked directly towards the sound." By scaring the elephants, Thuppil hopes to help them, and their human neighbours. Crop raiding elephants are a serious problem in Asian and African countries. In India alone, more than 400 people and 100 elephants are killed every year during stand offs between elephants and farmers. Thuppil is now working on developing a more complex system with multiple triggers and a variety of different predator sounds...the goal is to put the fear of death into elephants while saving their lives at the same time.