60-Second Science

Tiger Sounds May Ward Off Pilfering Elephants

Farmers losing crops to elephant raids may benefit from a study that found that the pachyderms left the area when they heard audio of tigers. Cynthia Graber reports.

The thieves arrive under cover of darkness, to steal crops. Farmers try to ward off the raiders with drums, firecrackers, electrified fences, even poison. The conflict kills hundreds of people annually. And hundreds of the thieves [elephant sound] also die. But hungry elephants keep returning to pilfer cropland at night in India.

Now farmers may have an effective new tool: a tiger growl.

Researchers recorded tiger and leopard sounds in a Bangalore zoo. Then they set up playback systems in southern Indian villages near two wildlife refuges, an area known for elephant crop raids.

For six months, when marauding elephants attempted to raid a field, they might have triggered the tiger recording (tiger sound) or this one of a leopard (leopard sound).

When the elephants heard the leopard, they trumpeted and loitered for a while. But when they heard the tiger, which is known to kill baby elephants, they backed off quickly and quietly. The report is in the journal Biology Letters. [Vivek Thuppil and Richard G. Coss, Wild Asian elephants distinguish aggressive tiger and leopard growls according to perceived danger]

Should the tiger sounds work, and save crops, people and pachyderms, farmers may say “They’re great!” [Tony the Tiger voice]

—Cynthia Graber

[The above text is a transcript of this podcast.]

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