Page last updated at 05:02 GMT, Tuesday, 13 October 2009 06:02 UK

Cambodia villagers save elephants

By Guy DeLauney
BBC News, Phnom Penh

Tourists on elephants, Siem Reap, Cambodia, 2007
Elephants are losing their natural habitats, becoming a tourist attraction

Conservationists in Cambodia have brokered an agreement which should see elephants living more peacefully alongside their human neighbours.

Villagers living near elephant habitats have promised not to harm the animals - or disturb their environment.

In return the local farmers are receiving help to keep the elephants away from their crops.

Human-elephant conflict can develop wherever the animals live close to people.

As villagers develop and expand their land, elephants lose their habitat.

At the same time, they become more likely to wander into fields - destroying crops and occasionally attacking humans and livestock.

Wild alternatives

This situation has put wild elephant populations in danger in a number of countries.

Conservationists are keen to prevent the same thing happening in Cambodia.

Elephant numbers are finally on the rise here - after decades of war and deforestation.

The organisation Fauna and Flora International is helping to keep the peace between people and pachyderms.

It is giving villagers funding to develop small businesses like chicken-farming - as an alternative to clearing the forests the elephants call home.

They are also giving advice on how to keep the elephants away from crops.

"Growing different types of crops is one line of defence, such as chilli fences around the boundaries of their fields," said Matt Maltby, who is in charge of FFI's elephant protection scheme.

"Elephants don't like chillies, so they will naturally turn the other way. If that doesn't work, or if chillies aren't available, then we can deploy solar-powered electric fences," Mr Maltby explained.

That might be a bit of a shock for the elephants - but not enough to harm them.

They may not like the chillies and electric fences - but the villagers' promise to protect the elephants' habitat should be rather more palatable.

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