We are proud holders of the Elephant-Friendly Fruit Orchard Certificate, which (although we invented it ourselves and we are – so far – the only ones holding it) certifies our elephant-friendly gardening techniques.
Here is a list of the requirements that must be met in order to qualify for the certificate:
1. No electric or barbed wire fencing
One of the main causes of death for wild elephants are electric fences illegally connected to a 220V power socket. The young elephant bull called Dor Daeng that used to frequent our garden was killed in such fashion.
There are no fences in Nature, and they fragment habitat for many animals, including elephants (and humans). In order to qualify for the Certificate, no fencing is allowed at any border of one’s land in order to allow elephants to pass freely.
2. No bright lights at night
The night is supposed to be dark – this is what Nature intended and the evolutionary context in which we all evolved. Any effort to artificially illuminate the night (light pollution) has a variety of detrimental effects on all sorts of animals, including humans. Bright lights do not deter elephants, they simply don’t care about them. But leaving bright lights burning all night dramatically diminishes insect populations, which are attracted to the light (they mistake it for the moon, which they use to orient themselves) and die of exhaustion or are eaten by the frogs and toads gathering under the light beam. Floodlights are ineffective and waste enormous amounts of electricity.
3. No firecrackers or gunshots
The usual method to scare away wild elephants is to light firecrackers (or shoot guns into the air). This traumatizes elephants (which leads to increased aggression, both towards other elephants and humans), and is extremely harmful towards them in a variety of ways. Many times, an elephant peacefully minding his business is startled by a sudden loud noise, which results in an instinctual fight-or-flight response. If the elephant flees, the damage is limited to psychological distress for the elephant, but if the elephant chooses to fight, more extensive damage ensues (for humans and elephants). We can never be sure if the response to a startling sound will be fight or flight, so it’s best to minimize risks and simply don’t scare elephants in the first place.
Their ears are large and sensitive, and the deafening sound of firecrackers exploding is many times louder for elephants than it is for us.
4. No large fires at night
There is absolutely no need to burn car tires (or even large logs) at night, because this practice is polluting, wasteful, destructive, and its effectivity is highly dubious. While often used as a preventive measure, this practice drastically increases air pollution and disturbs other wild animals – as well as humans – exposed to the smoke.
Considering the vast quantity of CO2 already in the atmosphere, we should take all necessary measures to eliminate any additional sources of pollution and greenhouse gases.
5. No pesticides
This should go without saying. Showering your environment with highly toxic chemicals is probably one of the worst ideas ever conceived. Needless to say, what’s toxic for insects and grasses is also toxic to humans and to elephants. Elephants eat vast quantities of plant material every day, and if those plants have traces of pesticides on them, those toxins will bioaccumulate in the elephants’ bodies and lead to the same health problems they cause in us humans: cancer, birth defects, infertility, and a whole panoply of adverse health effects, including neurological disorders.
Using pesticides is chemical warfare against Nature, and should thus be prohibited under the Geneva Protocol from 1925 – the application of pesticides of any kind is a war crime and a crime against humanity. Companies producing those chemicals should be prosecuted for war crimes and violation of the 1998 Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court.
6. Deescalation strategies in encounters
Don’t provoke, shout at, or try to chase away elephants. Never shine a flashlight directly at them. Speak gently, maybe even sing a song to them (which is what we do), let them know you’re not a threat. Greet them, thank them for their visit, explain to them that you don’t want any trouble, and ask them to be careful when walking through your garden. While elephants might not understand the actual words we say, they can sense the emotional state we’re in and pick up the meaning our words convey – they definitely get the message. Elephants know very well who’s friend and who’s foe, and you don’t want to appear as the latter.
7. Protect and propagate elephant food
Despite popular misconceptions, elephants are not inherently evil and they don’t hate fruit farmers – they’re simply hungry, and it is in their Nature to roam the land foraging for food. The gradual destruction, theft and degradation of their natural habitat means that it’s harder for them to find food. Elephants are constantly on the move, and they usually eat plants like wild bananas, fishtail palms, young coconut or betel nut palms, pineapple plants, etc. – they like to eat durian and other fruit occasionally, yes, but it is not a staple food for them. They might eat a few fruits, but if ample elephant food is provided, they won’t do extensive damage to a fruit crop.
This point is very easily to implement, because many plants that elephants like to eat grow all by themselves – all we have to do is to not cut them down. Leave wild bananas, fishtail palms, etc. standing, and spread their seeds, especially along the borders of your orchard or along the roads. When unprovoked and provided with naturally occurring food, elephants will do less damage.
8. Cultivate an elephant-friendly mindset
Elephants have a right to exist, just like we do. They are capable of complex thought, have a better memory than humans, and live in complex social arrangements. There are not many of them left, and they’ve suffered from what can only be termed a genocide in the last few centuries. From an estimated 100,000 wild elephants a century ago, only 2,000-3,000 wild animals remain today – a 97% reduction!
It is our duty to learn from the mistakes of our recent ancestors and restore our relationship with those gentle giants. They have surely suffered enough.