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Last Updated: Tuesday, 7 June, 2005, 15:26 GMT 16:26 UK
Chilli bombs to combat elephants
Herd of Indian elephants
Elephants have killed more than 600 people in Assam in the last 15 years
Wildlife experts in India's north-eastern state of Assam are trying out tripwires and "red chilli bombs" to keep wild elephants away from villages.

The battery-operated devices with warning bells are being fixed a few hundred metres from houses to warn people in good time of coming animals.

The measures are aimed at preventing herds of wild elephants from destroying crops and attacking villagers.

In the past 15 years, elephants have killed more than 600 people in Assam.

We want to save the villagers from the marauding elephants and the elephants from the anger of the villagers
Nandita Hazarika
project coordinator
India's north-eastern states have the world's largest concentration of wild Asiatic elephants. Assam alone has more than 5,000 of them.

But over the years, the density of population has sharply increased in Assam leading to growing human encroachment on forests and sharply reducing the elephant habitats.

Smelly devices

Nandita Hazarika, co-ordinator of the Assam Haathi (Elephant) Project, said the trials were being carried out in five villages "worst affected by marauding herds of elephants".

She said the tripwires were being set up a few hundred metres from homes.

"This will mean the villagers don't have to stay awake night after night in panic," Mrs Hazarika said.

"If this works... we will install these tripwires and encourage villagers to use the chilli bombs elsewhere in the state."

She said elephants could not stand some pungent chilli varieties available in Assam, so chilli smoke bombs and ropes smeared with chillies might keep the elephants away.

The project is a collaborative programme of Ecosystems-India, an Assam state-based conservation group, and the Chester Zoo in Britain.

Deadly confrontation

Satellite imagery by India's National Remote Sensing Agency shows that nearly 300,000 hectares (741,000 acres) of thick forests in Assam have been encroached by villagers during the period 1996-2000.

"I admit that there has been large scale deforestation across Assam state during the past 20 years, leading to the fragmentation of the great elephant corridor and their specific habitats," said Pradyut Bordoloi, Assam's Forest Minister.

A deadly confrontation between man and elephant has followed. In 1992, one rogue elephant killed 42 villagers as it went on the rampage.

More than 60 wild elephants have been killed by angry villagers during this period.

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