Where: the north-eastern state of Assam
November 14, 2007: For some time villages in Assam located close to forests have been having a tough time. Often the villagers find unwelcome guests in their backyards: herds of wild elephants in a wild mood. In the contest between human and animal there have been deaths on both sides.
In recent times, more and more forests have been cut down. Wild animals have found their homes getting smaller and smaller. At the same time, human settlements are getting closer to the elephants’ habitats. This has resulted in disaster. Wild herds of elephants stray into villages and villagers panic, using everything they have to defend themselves. In some cases villagers have tried to put up electric fences, but these plans have not succeeded in keeping wild elephants at bay.
Finally the forest department of Assam has hit upon, what it says is, a foolproof solution: It wants to use the world famous chili of Assam to keep the elephants away. It is the world’s hottest chili, called bhot jolokiya in the local language. Its biological name is Capsicum frutescens . The forest department says that a paste made from this chili, mixed with a special grease, is an elephant repellant. If smeared on ropes along the village boundary, it will keep elephants away. The secret is that the chili is so HOT that even thick-skinned animals like elephants will feel a burning sensation and back off, says a report in The Indian Express.
Don’t laugh. Even the Worldwide Fund for Nature is backing this plan. This project has been started in some villages in north Assam which are close to the Sonai-Rupai wildlife sanctuary which has a population of wild elephants.
There is a lesson in this for us. We humans plunder nature for our comforts and spoil the delicate balance of nature. When there is trouble we deal with it using the best of technology we have. But sometimes that fails as well. Then we learn a valuable lesson from nature about how a balance can be maintained without destruction of life. That is the lesson the Assam chili has taught us.
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