A PROJECT launched last week in Mondulkiri province is training villagers to use explosive devices made of bamboo and basalt to scare wild elephants away from their farmland.
The project, led by the Forestry Administration and the conservation group Fauna and Flora International, comes amid increasing reports from villagers that wild elephants have ventured onto their property and destroyed their crops.
Chheang Nak, the Forestry Administration official leading the project, said Fauna and Flora was providing the explosive devices, which are made by placing explosive basalt inside a stick of bamboo, adding water and lighting an attached fuse made of silk.
The fuse sticks out of the bamboo by 5-10 centimetres, giving the villagers plenty of time to throw the device in the general direction of the targeted elephant, he said.
"It can be loud enough to scare the wild elephants, but it won't kill them," he said.
Cheak Chheung, the chief of Mondulkiri's Sre Khtum commune, located in Keo Seima district, said wild elephants had destroyed up to 5 hectares of farmland between July 15 and July 27. He said the commune, made up predominantly of Phnong minority villagers, had never before had a problem with elephants damaging farmland.
Several villagers interviewed by the Post expressed concern that wild elephants would continue to "attack" their crops.
Phuo Hignuok, 36, a villager in the commune's Om An village, said in late July that his two small rice fields were devastated by two wild elephants.
"One of the two elephants was very vicious," he said. "It tried to attack our rice field three days in a row and destroyed 3 hectares of rice paddy."
Another villager, Tresh Huo, 57, said two wild elephants "attacked" his farm for three consecutive days beginning on July 25, destroying his single-hectare banana and sugarcane plantation.
He added: "They didn't just destroy the cash crops. They also destroyed my cottage."
Invasion of "gentle animals"
Chear Vireak, the project leader for Fauna and Flora, said the destruction of farmland by wild elephants, though new to Sre Khtum commune, was not new to the province, adding that similar projects had been implemented in Mondulkiri as recently as last year.
He said wild elephants generally ventured out from the jungle towards sparse forests near villages beginning in early June, and that they would go back to the jungle in February.
"They always eat the cash crops and the rice of the villagers when they cross from the jungle to the area near the villages," he said.
He described wild elephants as "gentle animals that are as shy as humans", though he noted that they can become "vicious when they need to breed" in November and December. Citing official estimates, he said there were 300 wild elephants in Mondulkiri province.