Nature all wild animals stink

Animal research Instead of fences or warning shots: lion droppings drive elephants away

During the reaction tests, the scent threads were laid across a 3.5 meter wide, unpaved road surrounded by hedges so that the elephants could not move sideways. Indecisive pachyderms were also rolled oranges as a lure meters behind the scent thread, i.e. outside the reach of their trunk - a popular snack among elephants. The video of the research group shows how a bull elephant halts in front of the string, "smells" it with his trunk, how he hesitates, also emerges as more enticing oranges - and finally walks backwards. "To ensure that no elephant was influenced by the behavior of others, all animals were tested individually," explains Dr. Omer Nevo in conversation with MDR Wissen the process.

Does the scare effect wear off with the smell of lion droppings?

In the approach, the research group's calculation seems to be paying off. Is there a risk that the elephants will get used to the smell and learn: Isn't it dangerous wherever it smells like lion droppings? "You can't rule out that they'll learn that," says Professor Ayasse, who oversaw the project, about MDR Wissen. Elephants are known for their good memories.

But one could suspect that there is 'training' in both directions: on the one hand, getting used to the smell, on the other hand, the constant confrontation with lions, the only animal other than humans that can be dangerous to elephants.

As a control, the reactions to the excrement of other animals such as cheetahs, dogs or giraffes were also tested in the experiments. According to the research team, the result was clear - wherever the test elephants had to deal with lion droppings or lion scent threads, the pachyderms hesitated or even turned. The research team suspects that the defensive reaction, the hesitation when crossing the Löwenduft wall or turning back, could be even stronger in completely wild animals.

It has not yet been researched whether the principle also works with Asian elephants without having to import lion droppings from Africa. In theory, the feces of tigers native to Asia also contain phenol and indole. And the smell of these fragrances is the same everywhere.

Do places around the threads of scent smell like lion poop?

Nobody has to fear that an entire village, if it were surrounded by fragrance threads or a field smelled of lion droppings, says Dr. Nevo. On the other hand, the designed scent trail was very weak, says Dr. Nevo. Perhaps one would put a higher concentration of scent at places in the bowl that elephants often frequent. Researcher Manfred Ayasse makes this clear:

Elephants have five times more olfactory receptors than humans. And elephants have twice as many olfactory receptors as dogs. They can also smell water several kilometers away and they have a good memory for odorous substances.

It is not yet possible to say whether and how often the fragrance cord should be refreshed, says Dr. Nevo:

This is one of the questions that is at the top of the list in further studies.

Just like Manfred Ayasse, he sees the study as the first approach that needs to be further developed.

Fox droppings versus raccoons: would that be effective?

Could this principle be transferred to other animal species that come into conflict with humans? For example raccoons, who are on the spreading course in Germany and like to dig up the lawn and mark their territory with a neat pile? At first glance, that sounds good. But Dr. Nevo takes the wind out of our sails again:

The technique works because lions are the elephants' main enemies. It is different with invasive species. Even if the technology worked in the beginning - without real pressure to be eaten, the raccoons would eventually learn to ignore the supposed danger. I think the chances of using this method for invasive species are not high.

Dr. Omer Nevo,

So for the time being we will bury our teeth gritting raccoon poop that the gentlemen have put in the garden for us.