Elephant Whispers KNOWLEDGE IS POWER


Dr Kruger, a wildlife vet, has been doing research using the Elephant Whispers’ elephants to obtain information he needs for his studies on African Elephant.

His first study is to find out how far wild elephants disperse seeds they have ingested. He does this by feeding the five Elephant Whispers’ elephants various fruits that have hard and soft seeds, and then measuring how long it takes for the seeds to pass through their systems.

Taking into consideration how far elephants walk each day, he can then work out the distance the elephants disperse an assortment of seeds from their source.

The fun part of this research is that, much to the amusement of visitors to the elephants, veterinary students have to follow the elephants for hours and carefully sift through all their dung – a most unglamorous task!


A great deal of the conflict between humans and elephants occurs when elephants raid farms to eat crops. In one night a herd of elephants can completely destroy a farmer’s livelihood. Due to their size and strength, elephants can easily break down barriers, and because they are so intelligent, they have figured out how to disable electric fences. In an attempt to chase the elephants away by scaring them, farmers have tried making a huge noise by banging pots and shouting. The elephants have become accustomed to the noise, and either ignore it, or attack the people who are trying to defend their farms. This unfortunately leads to more aggression from the farmers and the scale of hostility escalates.

Scientists are looking for different ways to lessen human-elephant conflict. Dr Kruger, a Kruger Park Scientist, in conjunction with students from Duke University in the USA, are investigating the use of chilli barriers as a possible method of discouraging elephants entering staff villages and rest camps in the Kruger Park, and farms bordering the Reserve.

To test the theory that elephants have very sensitive trunks and an exceptional sense of smell, Dr Kruger and the students injected a chilli mixture into some oranges. They put a combination of chilli and chilli-free oranges together, to see which oranges the Elephant Whispers elephants would eat. The two females, Lindiwe and Andile, carefully separated and ate all the chilli-free oranges, then used their feet to squash the juice from the chilli oranges before they finally ate them. The male elephants did the same, but used their tusks to break open the chilli oranges and shake the juice out, then turned them inside-out before eating them. Although the elephants ate the chilli oranges, it was clear they did not like the chilli sauce; that is until Tembo blew the theory, and happily ate all the chilli oranges!

The students then soaked pieces of material in the chilli mixture and placed them in various trees along the route the elephants regularly walk. When they passed those trees, the elephants put their trunks in the air to smell, but would not come close, or feed from those trees. The researchers were more encouraged by these results, and happy to see that Tembo’s reaction concurred with that of the rest of the herd.


Dr Kruger with students from the University of Western Kentucky in the USA are researching pheromones of other species which would indicate a possible threat to elephants. If these pheromones could be sprayed onto fences, it may be an effective way of stopping elephants breaking through barriers. They sprayed leopard, wild dog and bee pheromones on oranges to record the elephant’s reactions to each pheromone. The Elephant Whispers elephants ate all the oranges, giving no indication of recognising any of the pheromones as posing a threat. The elephants were attacked by a swarm of bees a few years ago, but showed no recognition of the bee pheromone. Back to the drawing board!