In the Field: Halting Elephant–Human Conflict

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This year’s Duttenhaver Animal Conservation Field Study Team. Photo by Nita McHugh

Elephant–human conflict has long been a conservation challenge in Asia, where expanding agriculture and development have been encroaching on elephant habitat. Similar conflicts have been escalating in sub-Saharan Africa, where elephants frequently raid and damage crops. In response, field biologists have been working with local farmers to implement sustainable agriculture methods, thereby helping to mitigate human–wildlife conflict.

Since 2008, the Duttenhaver Fund, established by donor Linda Duttenhaver, has sponsored field study expeditions through Canada’s Earthwatch Institute for student volunteers and North Hollywood High School Zoo Magnet students. The gift was inspired by Duttenhaver’s belief in the positive impact of international travel and study and matched the Zoo’s interest in developing field opportunities for students evaluating a future in biological science. This year’s Duttenhaver Animal Conservation Field Study Team traveled to the Tsavo Conservation Area in southeast Kenya where they assisted field researchers affiliated with the NGO Wildlife Works, who are working on mitigating human–wildlife conflict while conserving the land and its resources using the latest methods in sustainable agriculture and forestry.


“So how do you keep a 10,000-pound animal out of your farm when you have no electricity and no money to buy steel posts or cement? With ingenuity!”


Los Angeles Zoo Curator of Birds Mike Maxcy, Lead Gardener Janica Jones, and Director of Corporate Giving Brian Levitz served as mentors for a group of seven student volunteers and North Hollywood High School Zoo Magnet students—Gabe Lizer, Nita McHugh, Ryan Iwata, Malissa Ruiz, Jake Eigenbrodt, Ryan Donnelly, and Mikael Ortega. Members of the Duttenhaver team will be on hand at our World Elephant Day Celebration at the Elephants and Sustainable Agriculture station to share their experiences.

“It seemed like a simple task: help build a fence to keep elephants from raiding the local farmer’s crops,” comments Maxcy. “It seemed like a simple task until we saw firsthand what true poverty was. Unlike the relatively wealthy areas of South Africa where imposing electrical fences have been erected to prevent crop raiding, in Tsavo, the local farmers have nothing but what the land beneath their feet could provide. So how do you keep a 10,000-pound animal out of your farm when you have no electricity and no money to buy steel posts or cement? With ingenuity! Under the guidance of Dr. Bruce Schulte and his graduate student Lynn Von Hagen, we constructed fences out of wooden posts, twine, used motor oil, ground chili pepper, and raggedy pieces of sheet metal. Only time will tell how effective these visual and olfactory deterrents will be, but one fact was evident: the maturity and dedication displayed by the students and the firm belief that a nonviolent resolution could be found for this conflict will keep these fences up by sheer willpower alone.”

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