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By Staff | Apr 20, 2012

Here we are just now getting under way in corn planting season. We know what to do and we made our preparations during the past several months.

Machinery, seed, fertilizer, herbicides and anything else we will need to grow corn have been either brought home or are waiting to be picked up and brought home. We are prepared.

We United States corn producers are the best in the world. Our yields show we are very good at what we do.

However, a recent story in the Wall Street Journal made me have new respect for the corn growers in Africa’s Tanzania who have a pest they are trying to control.

While we Americans contend with corn borers and other assorted bugs bent on destroying our crop, Tanzanian corn growers have to contend with elephants. That is right, elephants; I am not making this up.

Elephants have discovered that corn tastes better than grass and has more calories. Watermelon is also high on their lists.

Wild elephants have developed a taste for corn and a herd of 15 or 20 will invade a cornfield, destroying a field as they trample it while they are feeding on it at night.

It gets worse. According the Wall Street Journal story, several years ago three people were killed in central Tanzania when they were charged by elephants that were raiding the cornfields.

Harvest and droughts are peak times of confrontations between elephants and humans.

I worry about pests in my cornfield, but being trampled by a herd of charging corn borers has never even entered my mind.

Growing corn in Tanzania is an act of bravery. I have a large respect for Tanzanian corn growers.

To keep the elephants away from their fields they have tried using flashlights and making noise, but those methods were ineffective.

Making matters worse, elephants are clever. They send a scout to find cornfields that are ready and the next night a team of three to five elephant family members will show up to feed on the crop.

Another problem was that on their way to feeding on the corn crop, the elephants would travel through tobacco and cotton feeds trampling and destroying those crops.

What is a Tanzanian corn farmer to do?

The story did not say they have an Extension service in Tanzania, but it does have the Tanzania Wildlife Research Institute and a researcher, Lucas Malugu whose background is elephant behavior and psychology.

Malugu contacted people in Tanzania and neighboring Zambia having elephant problems and over a two-year period came up with a defense to guard against invading elephants.

Elephants have poor eyesight but a well developed sense of smell. Lucas Malugu coated fences with a mixture of motor oil and chili.

Elephants do not like the smell of chili and the motor oil keeps the chili on the fence, even after a rain.

Villagers were skeptical at first but saw how well it worked when the chili fence literally stopped the elephants in their tracks.

Elephant hoof prints could be seen at the fence and then leaving for elsewhere in another direction.

Just as we are trying to prepare for the next generation of weeds that will become resistant to Roundup, Tanzanian corn growers are concerned about elephants getting clever enough to get around a chili coated fence.

What might be the solution to chili resistant elephants? Bees are looking promising.

Elephants do not like getting stung by bees that enter their trunks. Bee colonies are placed at the edges of fields and when the elephants approach, villagers shake the hives to excite the bees and it sends the elephants running.

This will give you something to think about as you sit in your air conditioned, satellite guided tractor applying the most effective rate of herbicide and fungicide in the coming months. At least, we U.S. corn growers do not have to watch for elephants.

Rye is a Farm News staff writer and farmer from Hanlontown. Reach him by e-mail at crye@wctatel.net.

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