Aaron Young leads this incredible initiative. He can be found on Face book. Updates from the Facebook group will be posted here too.
HOW IT STARTED
This is where it all started in October... I know a couple of you have asked for clarification on what we are doing ....Hop Along - a resident elephant bull in Chirundu was about to be shot as a PAC (problem animal) for wrecking houses/terrorizing people in Chirundu town. I felt that an intervention was needed sent an appeal out on facebook for someone to lend a hand & somehow help me make a difference...Aaron Young called straight away & came onboard rallying awareness & overwhelming support. I spoke to our regional manager at National Parks who agreed we should look into alternative means of control. Initially we looked into relocation & they agreed we could try relocate him.
After a bit of research Aaron & I realised that a relocation wouldn't work as elephants walk hundreds of km's & the process is very stressful on them- so then Mike la Grange was recruited to share his expertise & help us kick off this Chirundu elephant behaviour modification trial using Chilli guns. Its a system he developed and is doing extensive research on a regional level with this method. It was designed with wild crop raiding elephants in mind & proved very successful in the field. We felt our local Chirundu elephants would be ideal candidates. What we didnt anticipate is a)how many elephants frequented the town daily b) just how used to human contact & noise they had become. This all became very evident on our first few days into the programme. After a few weeks it seems to making a significant impact & is mostly keeping the elephants at bay but there is the on going issue of trash/ food waste that keeps the elephants coming back. We are trying to work with council & national parks to educate the locals & stakeholders to find a working solution.
This is a programme that will take a few months but hopefully it will create a long term solution & help keep our wildlife wild.
The gun shoots concentrated chilli oil (roughly 50 times the strength of Tabasco) at an elephant, teaching it to keep away from a particular area. Other members of the herd smell the chilli stain and also learn which areas are best avoided.
Working with Mike le Grange and the owner of Jecha Fishing Lodge on the Zambezi just outside of Chirundu they decide to give it a go.
"There were three bulls and two migrant herds getting stuck in town," Young says. "The adults were teaching their young that it wasn't worth migrating. It was as if they were saying: hey, if you hang around here, there's food.The elephants were getting into the same pattern of behaviour from as young as 15 months."
The men decided that they needed to create a "virtual barrier" round the town. Once an elephant crosses the barrier, he is "shot" with the chilli gun. "We take a first, second, even a third shot: the closer the better. We usually fire from seven to eight metres away," Young says. The elephant's head is the target. You've really got to put the wind up the elephant. You've got to create a little bit of fear. It's not nice, but it's better than the bullet," Young says.
Hop-A-Long, who'd hung around Chirundu for the past two decades, got the message pretty quickly. But it soon became clear that the chilli gun project has to be a long-term course of action.
"We realised that once Hop-A-Long and the other bulls moved out of town for a few days they were quickly replaced by a new group of young bulls who wanted to take their place, on my first night patrol we noticed the town was packed with elephants."
It's tiring work. A shift patrolling the virtual barrier can last up to 19 hours. But the success of the project is seen today in the fact that Hop-A-Long has not been shot by rangers. His fellow trespassers - Chilli Boy, Doughnut and others - are also still alive.
The team also distributes old fuel drums, which are turned into bins, and tries to persuade Chirundu residents not to leave food and waste in places where they'll tempt the elephants.
"We've not had one elephant shot since we started," Young says.
Pictured below is an issue that has dogged us since day 1. Whilst we are unable to get the local population to take some pride in their surroundings we are going to struggle to keep a new generation of elephants from wanting to call Chirundu home. This will increase the likelihood of a physical confrontation with humans, which will lead to them being labelled "problem elephants" and the repercussions of that are dire.... As I have explained previously, Chirundu is a border town (with Zambia) and as such, the bulk of the traffic & the population is transient. The only way around this issue is for me to help the council to get designated bin sites around Chirundu and I also think if I could help fund some diesel and a proportion of the needed staff wages. I am very close to a partnership which will supply me with 200L drums but I need access to smaller bins for domestic use and the funds to help supply a fair percentage of their diesel and running costs.
Before people ask why isn't this being taken care of by government, its a very simple answer. There is no money and I am not going to stop the programme whilst waiting for something which is out of our control. The lives of these elephant and in the long run, the entire Chirundu (Zambezi) ecosystem may rely on us working with what tools we have. T.I.A and to complain about why things aren't done is not going to change anything. I need the support of people who see past the obvious problems and instead of crying foul, help us to create & develop solutions. The bigger picture in this area is that it is a corridor for many other species (personally in 5 years I have seen or know of Cape Buffalo, Eland, Kudu, Lion, Leopard, Hyena, Impala, Warthog, Bushbuck to name just a few). Chirundu is in a National Park and the species that used to be abundant will slowly dwindle if we cannot develop a strong working relationship with Chirundu council, Zimbabwe Parks & Wildlife management authority and the other relevant government bodies. The bigger picture is to work closely with these authorities so we can create an area that continues to allow these species to thrive whilst also playing an active role in the town and its future.
Right now we have the obvious mandate of eliminating the conflict that has existed between the local population and the elephant bulls who have called Chirundu home as well as the migratory herds that pass through every year. We need to prove we are capable of this task so we can develop confidence from all sides. I also need to prove that this is not a money making exercise, that for us this is a labor of love and passion. That our only motivation is to see this ecosystem protected for future generations of locals as well as tourists.....and most importantly because it is the right thing to do for the species that call this area home. I've said it before and I will say it again, African wildlife is not a money making asset. This needs to be done for a simple reason. We, as humans have devastated the environment around us, we have broken migration routes and put humans as the priority for too long. We have selfishly made decisions without any thought for the repercussions on our surroundings. Much of the area we are working in, is inhabitable so there is no reason why Chirundu cannot become a test case for what is possible when hard work, honesty and dedication to a legitimate cause is the priority.
Please like & share and if possible introduce a friend to what we are doing. If you would like to get involved in or want to ask questions, please feel free to contact me at anytime via messenger or alternatively you can email me on firstname.lastname@example.org . Remember we have 2 key elements to our programme, the enforcement of the virtual barrier around Chirundu or the educate and inspire programme for the local children of Chirundu. Please get involved where you can