GAUHATI, India – Wildlife experts in northeastern India are experimenting with a new weapon to prevent marauding elephants from destroying homes and crops and trampling people in villages close to their habitat — super-hot chilies.
Conservationists working on the experimental project in Assam state said they have put up jute fences smeared with automobile grease and bhut jolokia — also known as the ghost chili and certified as the world's hottest chili by the Guinness Book of World Records.
They also were using smoke bombs made from the chili to keep elephants out.
"We fill straw nests with pungent dry chili and attach them to sticks before burning it. The fireball emits a strong pungent smell that succeeds in driving away elephants," Nandita Hazarika of the Assam Haathi (Elephant) Project told The Associated Press on Monday.
Hazarika said the chilies would not be eaten and that the smell would be enough to repel the elephants. He emphasized the measures would not harm the animals.
Northeast India accounts for the world's largest concentration of wild Asiatic elephants; 5,000 are estimated living in Assam alone.
Conservationists say wild elephants increasingly attack human settlements encroaching on their natural habitat.
Satellite imagery by India's National Remote Sensing Agency shows that up to 691,880 acres of Assam's forests were cleared from 1996 to 2000.
More than 600 people have been killed by wild elephants in Assam in the past 16 years and villagers have reacted with an anger that has shocked conservationists.
In 2001, in Sonitpur district, 112 miles north of the state capital of Gauhati, villagers poisoned 19 wild elephants to death after they feasted on crops and trampled houses.
"We have been forced to look for ingenious means to keep wild elephants from straying out of their habitats," M.C. Malakar, the state's chief wildlife warden, told the AP.