A recent post has highlighted how innovative technologies can help manage human-elephant conflicts in Bangladesh. Introduced lately, solar electric fencing is identified as one of the conflict mitigation options in the elephant ranges. This article captures the impact of this technology on the ground, as learnt from a recent field visit.
Elephant foot prints close to a solar electric fence at Barahatia, Chittagong, Bangladesh Photo: © Md Ahansul Wahed/IUCN
Recently, IUCN published a blog on human-elephant conflict (HEC) management through innovative approaches – including erecting solar electric fences in Bangladesh. When this article was published, I was visiting an elephant range in the south-east part of the country. This gave me the opportunity to see how technology can help in conflict mitigation.
A solar electric fence is a barrier made out of pillars and wire that uses electric shocks to deter animals from crossing a boundary. The electricity is generated by solar panels during day and stored in batteries. The system is activated in the evening and it remains operational until morning, covering the periods when elephants usually roam. In Barahatia under Lohagora upazila of Chittagong district, where I visited, a committee has been established to manage and maintain the solar electric fencing. The total length of the electric fence is 2.5 km and approximately 800 households and 300 hectares of agricultural land is being protected by solar electric fencing.
During my discussions with the community, I was told that elephants had on several occasions tried to enter properties after the fencing system was erected in September 2016. Because of the shocks from the fencing, they were unable to do so. As a result, the property and crops were saved.
While walking around the Barahatia solar fence site I also saw that two households had erected a fence close to the solar electric fencing. But this new fence was not electrified. When I asked people in the community, they told me that the members of these households initially did not allow the staff of the project entitled ‘Pilot Programs to Identify Effective Measures to Reduce the HEC’ to erect solar electric fences on their land. However, since witnessing the effectiveness of the solar electric fence in preventing elephant raids, they have changed their minds.
They discussed the issue with the solar electric fence management committee and a representative who visited India shared that communities there had erected unelectrified fences in areas where the elephants were accustomed to electric fences with some success, because the elephants associated any fence with the electric shocks.
The members of two households utilised this idea of “false fencing” and spent approximately US$ 770 to erect a fence to protect their properties from elephant raids.
Solar fencing is a new technology that was introduced to Bangladesh to reduce human-elephant conflict in 2016. From initial observations, this innovation has shown potential. Best practices and lessons learned from this initiative can be replicated in other areas where there are incidences of human-elephant conflict.