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High-tech Scarecrows for Low-tech Farms

NSF Award:

BREAD: Development of Automated Systems to Increase Crop Yield by Reducing Group Foraging Intensity by Crop Pests  (Western Kentucky University Research Foundation)

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Researchers from Western Kentucky University and the University of Nairobi are developing low-cost, automated systems to reduce crop damage by large mammals in sub-Saharan Africa, where some areas have seen crop losses greater than 90 percent.

Across Africa, the top vertebrate wildlife pests include birds, primates, elephants, a variety of antelope species, buffalo, pigs and porcupines. While crop damage due to wild mammals is a major problem for subsistence farmers living near wild lands or protected areas, these animals are vital and visible parts of ecosystems and the source of much foreign income from ecotourists.

This study supports the development and testing of devices that are animal-triggered, nonlethal and portable; they distract wildlife from feeding while alerting farmers to the presence of crop predators. These "scarecrows" emit stimuli, including sounds, lights and smells, in random sequences from a suite of stimuli proven to ward off targeted species of crop predators.

In the first six months of the study, students discovered that the sounds of predators effectively frighten some species of herbivores, while novel noises are required to chase other species from food plots.

Images (1 of )

  • bushpig
  • hippos and buffalo at watering hole
  • photo of crops trampled by wildlife
  • photo of scientist with low-tech scarecrow of sheet on pole
  • researchers at nature reserve
Bushpigs feed in fields which they also destroy by digging.
Mike Stokes
Hippos and African buffalo feed at automated scarecrow test site.
Mike Stokes
Large animals such as elephants damage crops and structures in their search for food, water or safety.
Jake Stevens
A low-tech scarecrow constructed by a subsistence farmer in an attempt to keep wildlife from his field.
Jake Stevens
Western Kentucky University researchers at Olifants West Nature Reserve.
Mike Stokes

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