Human-elephant conflict (HEC) has long plagued the indigenous farmers (known as ‘Orang Asli’) living close to the Endau-Rompin National Park in the states of Johor and Pahang, Malaysia. Crop-raiding is a main problem when it comes to HEC in this area; farmers are required to be on alert for potential incursions that happen, more often than not, at night. The cost comes the next day as a lack of sleep then becomes a burden to daytime activities and family life. The solution to the problem was the siren fence, which are constructed from locally available materials.
Initially developed by the Wildlife Conservation Society Indonesia Program (WCS Indonesia), the siren fence was first set up along the boundary of Way Kambas National Park in Sumatra. It features an early warning system which allows the farmers to sleep in their huts near their crops but wakes them (via a piercing siren) when an elephant tries to enter their crop fields; a clear winner against other static methods of deterring elephants (flashing lights, fires, noise-making devices) to which elephants rapidly habituate. Locally available materials provide a clear benefit to farmers as the maintenance cost for the siren fences will be minimal. In 2010, the Wildlife Conservation Society Malaysia Program (WCS Malaysia), together with the villagers from Kampung Orang Asli Peta, pioneered the use of this tool to mitigate HEC.
The siren fence consists of a thin, horizontal steel wire, stretched between and supported by wooden poles along the perimeter of the crop field, 1.6 meters from ground level. An alarm kit (or kits) comprising a switch, car siren and 12 volt dry-lead acid battery is attached to the wire. Each kit is then placed approximately every 50 meters or more from each other, depending on the field’s perimeter and the land terrain. When an elephant pushes or pulls at the taut wire fence, it will trigger the siren, waking the farmers and indicating the direction of the intruder. Usually the siren is not enough to scare away the elephants but coupled with the shouts and spotlights from the farmers, the commotion is enough to drive the elephants away. The farmers will then reset the switch and are able to return to sleep. This early warning system is designed to be used where farmers have fields in close proximity and are able to make communal efforts to drive the elephants away.
This system was later expanded to other Orang Asli villages in other parts of Johor and Pahang, namely Kampung Orang Asli Tewowoh and Kampung Mentelong. Its effectiveness is clear from the positive responses of the Orang Asli farmers (and more so from the elephants that have been trying to break the sirens to mute the alarms!). Between 2010 to 2015, there was a recorded 75% success rate when siren fences were employed together with communal efforts in deterring the elephants. Due to the simple set up, siren fences are still requested by farmers. With the support of IUCN Save Our Species, WCS Malaysia was able to supply 28 Orang Asli farmers with materials to erect siren fences around their crop fields in 2019-2020. Several farmers who have started installing the siren fence since January 2020 gave feedback of its usefulness in alerting them on when and where elephants enter their fields. This has since led to a significant decrease in crop damages.
Disclaimer: This project is funded by IUCN Save Our Species. The contents of this article are the sole responsibility of Wildlife Conservation Society Malaysia Program and do not necessarily reflect the views of IUCN.