Elephants love maize, and they know exactly where to find this delicacy. Their sense of smell is 100 times more sensitive than that of humans, letting them sniff out the nearest, most nutritious plants. Safari fans are fascinated by the majestic giants, who move in herds of up to 300 animals through the Tarangire National Park in the north of Tanzania. Elephants are among the greatest attractions in the savannah, alongside lions, leopards and buffaloes.
The farmers living in small villages on the edge of the protected area see the elephants as a nuisance, or even a danger. By hand, they cultivate maize and millet, melons and tomatoes, on fields half the size of a football pitch. If the eternally hungry animals come across these fields, the farmers can neither feed their family nor sell their crops.
For both the farmers and the elephants, the situation became a threat and a peaceful coexistence of humans and animals no longer seemed possible. Until 2014, when wildlife conservationists came to Tarangire to show the farmers what really helps: chilies and bees. Biologists in Africa had long been searching for a way to allow people and elephants to live peacefully next to each other and to remove the need to fight violently over the scarce space and food they have there.
The organization World Animal Protection Nederland and the TUI Care Foundation jointly ensured that farmers were able to learn the method and use it sustainably, through tutorials and the means needed for the equipment they required.
The people in Tarangire were not easy to convince. What were a few chilies going to achieve? Alex Chang’a convinced them. He is an expert in biodiversity and works as a wildlife conservationist in Tanzania. For World Animal Protection and the TUI Care Foundation, he spread the word about the chili-and-bees method through the villages of Tarangire.
Today, the chili routine is an integral part of local agriculture: farmers add oil to the fiery, ground-up chilies, mixing it all into a paste. In the mixing bowl, plate-sized cloth rags and pieces of twine soak up the spicy mixture. The rags are then tied to the fence that surrounds the fields, every few meters, positioned at a height so that the elephants find them right in front of their trunks. Elephants that come across the pungent smell turn away in disgust: this really does not smell nice.
Now, among the vegetables and cereals, meter-high chili plants grow the ingredients for more paste. Any chili peppers that the farmers have left over are sold at the market or along the edge of the long road that leads through the national park. This brings in extra income – just like the honey that their bees produce. The insects are the second bio-weapon that Alex Chang’a brought with him. Used in combination with the chilies, the bees keep the elephants effectively at bay.
African bees are not larger than their European relatives, but they are much more aggressive. Even fully grown elephants look for an escape route at the mere sound of the bees buzzing. Stings to their sensitive trunks, around their eyes or behind the ears are extremely painful. That is why the farmers have learned to hang beehives in the trees that line in their fields.
690 farmers learned to protect their fields with bees and chilies. The training work has now been expanded to other regional organizations. The farmers also pass on their new knowledge to neighbors – ensuring a safe harvest and the well-being of elephants who wander freely and peacefully through the savannah.
This project with World Animal Protection is currently finished, but the commitment to the protection of elephants remains intact. TUI Care Foundation and World Animal Protection have recently joined again to launch a project in Asia to further improve the lives of elephants in the continent.