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Uganda Trumpets 'Vuvuzelas' as New Tool to Deter Elephant Attacks

FILE - A Mali supporter gestures and blows a vuvuzela horn upon the arrival of Mali's team at Malabo airport, Jan. 16, 2015, ahead of the 2015 Africa Cup of Nations football tournament.

In Ugandan villages near national parks, shifting elephant migration routes have become a real danger. So the Uganda Wildlife Authority has been holding seminars in rural communities and giving people new - and non-lethal - methods to deter the elephants: vuvuzelas. Armed with the plastic trumpets, villagers are defending their homesteads.

Although natural elephant corridors have existed for centuries in Uganda, in recent years growth in both human and elephant populations have led to an increased rate of elephant attacks on farms and homesteads.

In the search of non-lethal counter measures, the Uganda Wildlife Authority (UWA) has discovered the vuvuzela as a particularly effective tool in deterring wandering elephants.

This long plastic trumpet, often found at sporting events throughout the continent, emits a loud booming sound that irritates the elephant into retreating.

Now, UWA rangers and scouts are handing out vuvuzelas to community members in certain areas of Murchison Falls National Park. At an outreach meeting in Northern Uganda, one UWA ranger explains to residents why “scare shooting” - or firing A-K47s in the air - is no longer an effective method to deter these giant creatures.

“We use commonly the A-K47. And after using this over the years animals have got used to that sound which is produced by the A-K47," stated Ranger Moses. "And so even if you shoot, it may look at you, flap its ears and continue with whatever it wants. Now we have tried to back it up with vuvuzela, which we have supplied to some of these people we have called scouts, because their ears are very sensitive to noise and it gets irritated with much noise so that thing just scares them away… that is why we come up with the noise.”

Common non-lethal methods for deterring elephants include setting up beehives, stringing ropes covered in chili oil across village lines and digging long trenches.

However, Gessa Simblicious, a spokesman for the UWA, said that because Uganda has wide ranging diversity in ecosystems, one solution will not work for everyone.

“Of course some of these interventions have challenges…We have some areas that are so rocky its very hard to dig trenches, we also have a number of wetlands surrounding some of these protected areas like Murchison Falls National Park. So it’s very hard to put these interventions deep under the water or in wetlands," explained Simblicious. "Some places are actually adjacent roads. You can’t block off a road…so all these are a bit prone areas that are so porous.”

The UWA said the vuvuzela works well because it has the effect of irritating the elephant without intimidating it. This is an important factor as elephants that feel intimidated or threatened are more likely to attack. No such incidences have been noted with the vuvuzela deterrent systems.

Although there may come a time when elephants adapt to the vuvuzela the same way they adapted to gunfire, for now it is an effective, violence free approach, creating an amusing solution to a very real problem.

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