The grainy night-time webcam video shows a tusker approaching an electrical fence designed to keep wildlife from raiding crops outside the Bardia National Park. There is a small spark as the elephant gets a shock on its trunk, and retreats. In another clip, the same elephant returns, and knowing that the wire is live, uses his tusk to knock down the cement pillar. Through trial and error, the smart elephant has learnt that neither its tusk, nor the cement pole conducts electricity, and has learnt to destroy the fence without touching the wires.
In another instance that was not caught on camera, a bull elephant lifts a dead tree with its trunk and flings it across the electrified fence, and walks across. Humans and elephants are constantly trying to outwit each other here in one of the biggest sanctuaries for wild elephants in Nepal.
“The elephants always surprise us with how creative they are,” says Kumar Khadka of the National Nature Conservation Trust (NTNC) whose team has now come up with a prototype fence design that protects the pillar as well with electrified wire tentacles.
The elephants are attracted by bananas and other treats placed inside the fence and are monitored by movement-activated cameras at night. So far, humans are winning. But one never knows if the elephants will come up with an even more clever plan to demolish the fence.
Cas de Stopelaar of the Himalayan Tiger Foundation explains the importance of the fence research: “As tiger and elephants numbers inside the park increase, they will go out of the park in search of food. Human-wildlife conflict will reduce the villagers’ interest in conservation. So we need to have enough food for the wildlife inside the park, and have a stronger fence.”
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