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NSF highlights WKU research in Africa

“High-tech Scarecrows for Low-tech Farms” — a report on a WKU research project in Africa — is featured on the National Science Foundation’s SEE (Science, Engineering & Education) Innovation website.

WKU researchers are developing “high-tech scarecrows” to reduce crop damage by large mammals in Africa. From left in this photo on the Balule Nature Reserve in South Africa are Mark Cambron, faculty member in Department of Engineering; Molly DuVall, biology graduate student; Bruce Schulte, head of Department of Biology; Michael Stokes, faculty member in Department of Biology; and Shilo Felton, biology graduate student.

In the project, funded by the National Science Foundation and Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation through their joint Basic Research to Enable Agricultural Development (BREAD) program, researchers from WKU 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.

Read more: NSF highlight page, 2010 BREAD project announcement.

Contact: Michael Stokes, (270) 745-6009.

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