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July 26, 2010

Cameroonian farmers skeptical about FAO suggestion to scare away elephants with pepper

Farmers in Cameroon have expressed doubts over a UN suggestion to use pepper spray guns to stop stampeding elephants destroying crops.

Frightened villagers often respond to attacks by killing the animals.

The Food and Agriculture Organisation says plastic guns that fire ping-pong balls of chilli would be a non-lethal way of dealing with their attacks. But given elephants' memories and unpredictability, farmers said they feared the policy was dangerous.

The FAO says the chili balls "will send a bull elephant running for cover at over 50 yards."

Anstasie Eyenga Nanou, a 34-year-old farmer outside the capital, Yaounde, was sceptical.

"I fear elephants are unpredictable and can attack human beings - and how much pepper would you need to attack a herd?" he asked.

Besong Godwin, the son of a farmer in south-west Cameroon, agreed it was a risky strategy. "If you come face to face with elephants... they know when you are the enemy," he said. "We have seen hunters who have been killed by animals. "So pepper spray will not be any good to us," he said.

Bessem Caroline, who also farms near Yaounde, said she felt planting trees around fields was the only practical solution to stop elephants trampling crops.

According to the FAO, it has been estimated that elephant raids cost each farmer in Cameroon up to $510 (£330) each year in damage to crops. Elephants are protected by law in Cameroon, but no money is paid out to farmers in compensation.

In what the FAO called its Human-Wildlife Conflict mitigation toolkit, it also suggested other ways of warding off attacks by wild animals in Africa without harming them.

Hippos, which feed at night, could be deterred by shining bright lights in their eyes, it said. Leaving out snake sandwiches for baboons, which enter buildings to steal food, could also be a good deterrent, it added. And donkeys would be better at keeping lions at bay than guard dogs - fearlessly braying and kicking any predator that comes near.

However, the FAO concluded there was still no non-lethal way of dealing with a crocodile.


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