Elephant Repellent

  • 25 July 2018
  • Author: Frederika Bain
  • Number of views: 7381
Elephant Repellent

Mark Wright (PEPS) is the lead author of a study published in the journal Current Biology that describes how elephants can safely be deterred from entering areas where they can do damage: with honeybee pheromones! The study, which included researchers from the Balule Nature Reserve, University of South Africa, ISCA Technologies, and Elephants Alive in South Africa, was done at the Greater Kruger National Park in South Africa. The researchers tested a slow-release formulation that uses two of the compounds found in the pheromone released by African honeybees when they perceive a threat to their colony; the chemicals alert guard bees to mount a counterattack. The pheromone formulation was applied to socks that were weighted with rocks and hung from tree branches around watering holes frequented by African bush elephants. In some 66 encounters observed between December 2017 and February 2018, most of the elephants showed increased alertness and uncertainty when they encountered these socks before moving away. They ignored or interacted curiously with similar socks that weren’t treated with the pheromone compounds. This is good news for places where elephants can be a danger to crops or otherwise need to be deterred, because it causes the huge animals to move calmly away instead of stampeding and causing other damage. Even though most places aren’t plagued with elephant problems, this study has caught the imagination of media outlets around the world: at least twenty articles or videos have been published covering it, from local news like KITV to the British newspaper the Daily Mail to popular scientific journals such as Scientific American and Discover Magazine. Another research project with which Mark is involved that might have more local applications is the use of pheromones as control agents for agricultural pests in Hawai‘i.