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Pepper for pachyderms: Africa's Elephant Pepper Development Trust helps farmers and animals

November 10, 2009 |  3:10 pm

For many residents of Botswana, Namibia and Zambia, elephants don't seem majestic so much as menacing. Elephants are largely protected from poachers in these nations, but many people whose crops and homes the animals have destroyed wish they weren't. Enter the Elephant Pepper Development Trust, which aims to help both the people and the elephants survive -- through elephants' culinary nemesis, pepper. Here's an excerpt from our colleague Robyn Dixon's story:


The Zambia-based trust trains African farmers to repel elephants by using chile peppers. Elephants hate chiles.

African farmers often burn chiles as a repellent, but it's not enough. The trust's method involves four simple steps, but takes a lot of work and commitment.

The method: 1) Leave 5 yards of cleared space between the forest and the fields. At night, smelling humans around, crossing the gap into a field makes the elephants nervous. 2) Plant a thick barrier of chiles around the field. 3) Put up a fence with rope that has jangling cans (which gives them a fright) and cloth flags coated with thick chile-spiked grease. 4) Burn chiles, making pungent smoke.

The trust guarantees to buy chiles grown from farmers and manufactures its own Elephant Pepper brand of chile spices and sauces, sold in southern Africa and soon to hit the U.S. market. (They are already available to U.S. customers via the group's website.) The profits go back into the trust.

"We say, 'We are not here to give you food or money,' " Osborn said. " 'We're here to give you an idea. It's up to you to take it up.' "


Photo: Women sort chiles grown by local farmers for the Elephant Pepper Development Trust. Credit: Robyn Dixon / Los Angeles Times

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