Milly's account of a night-time invasion by a herd of elephants.
Elephant Attack 16th March 2015
"It was terrifying because the gun shots were so close... Everybody got frightened that [the elephants] would come to open the windows and doors, and enter their houses; or their trunks could easily pick a baby from the bed through the windows! We had to bang the goal posts to [scare them away]." Milly Nzirambi.
On that occasion, the elephants targeted bananas that were to be harvested only a few days later.
Seek Out and Destroy!
Elephants eat things they like — and trample the rest. "If they don't find ... mature banana, they split the plant in two [vertically] ... and eat the shoot that develops into a banana." But with "... their wide feet and weight, they trample on crops and ... destroy them completely and the place ... can only be ploughed by a tractor". In the same visit, the elephants destroyed the onions, tomatoes and sweet potatoes and "... ate our 2 acre of cassava roots: you only find the stems scattered on the garden."
Elephants Don't Forget
In the area around Kabirizi, elephants come to people’s gardens on average weekly in the dry season and almost daily in the rainy seasons. To help fend them off, park rangers and a small army contingent used to be almost permanently stationed at NOTDEC Uganda.
The entrance to NOTDEC from the main road. Part of the army group that used to control access.
In early mid 2015, in the run-up to the general election in February 2016, the army were withdrawn and redeployed elsewhere to help guarantee law and order and social stability. At the time of writing, it is not clear whether or when they will return.
"The biggest problem ... is that elephants do not forget where they got food and we now have only 3 park rangers to help on this. [Once the elephants] have crossed the road (from the heart of the Queen Elizabeth Game Park) they [may] come back [again] during the night, even up to around 4:00am. They ... give us sleepless nights. ... Even when we have park rangers and army, it is difficult to stop them because they will do [anything] and [go anywhere to find] bananas. "
Besides the on-site park rangers and army detachment, NOTDEC Uganda's defensive strategy involved being awake during the night, having plenty of torches that can light a minimum of 10 metres, and ... "we guard around the banana plantation."
What More Could We Do?
The only thing that would really help is a solar-powered system of electric fences around the fields with night-time lighting: then the crops would be secure! Of course, the solar panels would need to be on tall poles protected by sharp spikes so that the elephants couldn't damage or flatten them. It might begin to look more like a prison camp than an orphanage!
Flames and Furore
No matter that solar-powered electric fences and lighting is totally impractical: NOTDEC Uganda has found a much simpler strategy. With no army detachment to help frighten away invading elephants during the night, it became crucial to keep them at bay. But how? The answer: light smokey fires on the site boundary — particularly along the road separating the orphanage from the Game Park. And if elephants still came too close for comfort, the strategy would be to make as much noise as possible. This approach has now been in use for some months without any elephant incursion.
Sweet Taste of Success
At last in 2017, a new idea. Elephants hate bees. Like the rest of us, they're afraid of being stung! With encouragement from Jonny Rowland, NOTDEC Uganda has established 16 beehives — well away from the bungalows and the children's play areas. With the hives suspended on wires along key parts of the site boundary, any elephant incursion would cause violent shaking, disturbing and angering the bees. So far, this approach seems to be working — though we've heard that before! In January 2018, NOTDEC staff tasted the first NOTDEC honey. As production builds up, there will at least be money coming in to help fund the on-going efforts to keep the elephants at bay.
But it's Not Just Elephants
"[Our] cassava ... and sweet potatoes are eaten by wild pigs; and the soya plants and maize are eaten by birds as soon as they germinate. You have to be out ... by 6:00am to scare birds off and in the evening by 5-6pm. ... "This we do for a period of 2 weeks ... [When that is over] ... the crops will have survived the pecking of the birds."