Valparai (C) P. Jeganathan NCF

Elephant Early Warning Systems – The sooner the better

The Nature Conservation Foundation, NCF, has recently demonstrated that people living with elephants can successfully avoid conflict situations, which could otherwise escalate into significant crop losses, or worse, loss of life.

Elephant Family supports NCF’s work in two reserves in the Western Ghats mountain range of south India. The Western Ghats range, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, contains the Nilgiri Biosphere Reserve and over 6,000 Asian elephants.

One of the forest areas bordering the reserve is home to 700 elephants and 58 villages. NCF recently surveyed human-elephant conflict incidents in half the villages that directly border elephant habitat and found 55 people had been killed by elephants between 2009 and 2014. Twenty thousand people in the area rely on growing crops as their main source of income and when hungry elephants damage crops a battle begins. Fire throwing, firecrackers and vehicles are all used to try to deter the elephants, which leads to panic and loss of human life.

Over on the Valparai Plateau of the Anamalai Tiger Reserve, where over 70 per cent of the forest has been converted to tea estates, 100 elephants share the land with 70,000 people. NCF has been working in this area for over a decade. Working closely with the forest department and the local community they have been using early warning systems since 2011, reducing human deaths from four or five a year down to zero in 2013.

What is an Early Warning System?

NCF established an Elephant Information Network where people report and receive information about elephants in the area. Calls to the Forest Help Line trigger a rapid response team of forest watchers to immediately communicate elephant presence to local people and to protect people and property. SMS alerts inform the teams who strategically station themselves in the critical conflict zones and also use elephant alert lights to warn people against dangerous encounters.

NCF has shown that community participation is crucial for maintaining protection and creating systematic, calm responses that can minimise fatal encounters and increase tolerance for elephants. In the new study areas near the Nilgiri Biosphere Reserve they recommend locally appropriate solutions such as the initial establishment of elephant and crop protection groups involving the farming communities in the villages, so that elephants are deterred well before they enter croplands.

Back on the Valparai plateau, expanding the Elephant Information Network with public announcements, deploying sensor detectors set to trigger alerts about elephants and installing outbound voice dialling capabilities to phones will keep conflict incidents down. NCF has proven that even on the Valparai Plateau, with its 100 elephants coming and going, people and elephants can live in harmony using this unique neighbourhood watch system.

Photo by P. Jeganathan NCF

written by Elephant Family on 14 April 15


Recently cleared land in an oil palm plantation in north SumatraCrop. Credit Craig Jones

Wildlife groups hail new EU legislation as a boost for responsible palm oil production

New Europe-wide legislation came into effect on 13th December which means that palm oil will no longer be a hidden ingredient on food packaging – a move which conservation groups are hailing as a significant step forward for the protection of orangutans and other endangered species.

The production of palm oil, a vegetable oil found in up to half of all packaged food on supermarket shelves, is a major driver of deforestation in countries across south-east Asia, Latin America and Africa. Previously hidden behind the generic term ‘vegetable oil’ on ingredients lists, most consumers were unaware of the link between their weekly shop and the expansion of plantations into lowland rainforests, threatening many iconic species, including orangutans, tigers, elephants and rhinos in SE Asia and, as plantations expand in Africa, gorillas, chimpanzees and African forest elephants.

A coalition of conservation groups, including the Sumatran Orangutan Society (SOS), Elephant Family, Orangutan Foundation, Save the Rhino, the Jane Goodall Institute, the European Association of Zoos and Aquaria (EAZA), and the Ape Alliance, have been working together to tackle the problem.

Following their Clear Labels, Not Forests campaign in 2011, the EU adopted a new law which requires the labelling of specific vegetable oils, including palm oil, on food products. Companies were given three years to comply, and the new legislation came into force on 13th December 2014.

Helen Buckland, Director of the Sumatran Orangutan Society (SOS), explained the significance of the new law: ‘Mandatory labelling will support vital changes in the palm oil industry by allowing shoppers to make informed choices about what they buy. Responsible companies that make or sell products containing palm oil will want to reassure their customers that their products are not contributing to deforestation and loss of wildlife. Retailers and manufacturers now have the incentive to play their part in transforming the palm oil industry and breaking the link between palm oil and deforestation.’

The group acknowledges that labelling palm oil makes it easier for shoppers to avoid products containing it altogether, but caution that a boycott may have unintended consequences.

Helen Buckland said ‘Avoiding palm oil may not actually help protect orangutans and other biodiversity. All agriculture has a footprint, and palm oil is a very efficient way of producing vegetable oil – if companies were forced to switch to alternative oils, up to ten times as much land would be needed to meet global demand for vegetable oils. A boycott might also drive the price of palm oil down, possibly leading to increased demand in markets such as India and China. What we need to do is ensure that it is cultivated in the least damaging way possible.’

The group are encouraging consumers to support companies that have made commitments to use responsible palm oil, produced without harming the environment or local communities. They have produced a comprehensive factsheet to help consumers make informed choices, available online from

Photograph: Layton Thompson

written by Elephant Family on 15 December 14


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