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Using Chilies to Protect Maize Fields and Elephants

Demonstrating how to make chilli bombs

Cosmos Kakwenga demonstrates how to make chili bombs —a mixture of ingredients which give off a spicy, pungent smell that offends elephants’ sensitive trunks and drive them away from crops.

The Kakwenga family lives in a small village in southwest Zambia. Their home lies in Sioma Ngwezi National Park—at the heart of KAZA, the world’s largest transfrontier conservation area. KAZA encompasses 109 million acres and crosses five African countries—Angola, Botswana, Namibia, Zambia and Zimbabwe.

The maize harvest is a crucial source of food for the Kakwenga family but erratic rains and raids by elephants make a good harvest problematic. WWF is working with villagers to help improve their harvests by using specific planting methods and drought resistant maize varieties.

Elephants are a bigger problem. The Kakwengas share the national park with 3,000 elephants and others frequently pass through Zambia on their way from Angola to Botswana. Ask Cosmos Kakwenga, the head of the family, if he likes elephants and he will tell you yes—from a distance.

  • Chili bomb in Zambia

    Chili bombs include a mixture of crushed chillies, elephant dung and water.

  • Elephant in Zambia
  • Chilli grower in Zambia
  • Chilli patch in Zambia

    Elephant dung is available in abundance, but chilies cost money. Through local non-governmental organizations, WWF is assisting in the production of chili with the hope that it becomes a cash crop.

Cosmos has moved his field from a route regularly used by elephants to a safer area in an attempt to keep them from eating the maize meant to feed his family. WWF and the villagers are working together to create specific wildlife corridors so the elephants can avoid populated areas. We are also looking for the safest and most effective way to keep elephants from eating crops.

Elephants have a tremendous sense of smell. Sniffing out water from just over a mile away, it’s no surprise they can easily sense a maize field. For years villagers have tried everything they could think of to keep the elephants at bay— sleeping out in the fields, lighting fires and banging drums. They have even tried using the vuvuzela horns to scare away the elephants.

Recipe for Success

Farmers can’t guard their crops twenty-four hours a day so they have started using chilli bombs—a mixture of ingredients which give off a spicy, pungent smell that offends elephants’ sensitive trunks and drive them away from crops.

Cosmos Kakwenga is an expert at making chili bombs and as harvest time approaches he gives demonstrations to other villages. The recipe is simple: half crushed chilies and half elephant dung, mixed with water. The contents are then dried and a small dent is made in the top of the bomb. When the elephants are around, the bombs are placed around the maize fields, lit with hot coals and left to burn for hours.

Elephant dung is available in abundance, but chilies cost money. Through local non-governmental organizations, WWF is assisting in the production of chili with the hope that it becomes a cash crop. Some will be exported and others will be bought by local farmers for chili bombs, which will hopefully help to improve the maize harvest. Similar projects have helped people across the border in Namibia where farmers have also been encouraged to grow chilies.

It seems that the recipe for success is to serve maize with a side of chilies.

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