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Elephant dung tracker

In times of crisis, African elephants can help
  (+6, -1)
(+6, -1)
  [vote for,

Fertilizer prices are skyrocketing. African farmers find it hard to compete if their governments do so much as put a micro-tax on imported fertilizer.

Some numbers from Zimbabwe:


"So using a conservative fertiliser application rate of 250kgs per hectare for Ammonium Nitrate(AN) and 300 kgs per hectare for Compound D basal fertiliser for the 2008/09 maize crop, only 24 000 hectares of maize will have adequate fertiliser at a cost of US$1083.00 per tonne. The average world price for one tonne for 34.5% AN fertiliser is US$425.00 per tonne and for Compound D (8:14:7, N-P-K) is US$500.00 per tonne. These prices are from Harare depots, transportation to rural areas can increase this price.

A farmer in Zimbabwe this season will pay U$$ 1.08 per kg of fertiliser. Therefore, to plant one hectare of maize the farmer will fork out US$594.00 per hectare, assuming the rains are good, the seedbed is perfect and germination is within the acceptable 95-99% range."


The Zimbabwean farmer gets paid only $50 per ton of maize, and average maize yields are 1.5 tonnes per hectare. So very few farmers can even come close to breaking even.

The situation is much better in neighboring countries, but still, high fertilizer prices are a serious pain.

So here's the plan:

-there are loads of elephants in Southern Africa (see stats below)

-an African elephant can eat up to 300 kg of plant matter per day, of which he only digests 60%

-on average he drops between 60 to 100 kilograms of dung per day

-stats for different countries in Southern Africa:

:: Tanzania: 120,000 elephants :: Mozambique: 20,000 :: South Africa: 20,000 :: Zambia: 35,000 :: Zimbabwe: 60,000 :: Botswana: 120,000

Okay, loads of excellent manure there. Thousands upon thousands of tonnes.

Say: 350,000 elephants producing an average of 50kg a day = 17,500 tons of organic fertilizer per day. We're not going to harvest all that, because the dung spreads seeds, which is very important for the ecology of the savannah. But harvesting a fraction of it can help, and won't do damage.

-elephants can travel great distances every day. Tens of kilometres. So we need a way to follow them - or at least their poo - around.

-we design a simple elephant dung tracking device: a solar powered GPS tracker is connected to a poo-detector. The elephant wears the device.

-the poo-detectors are attached to the elephants' anii. A simple sensor will do the trick. As the annii open and the turd falls, the sensor notices it.

-so each time our pachyderm friends give us a dump of their precious fertilizer, we get a signal.

-all signals are plotted on a map.

-we then use a simple algorithm to calculate where it is economically feasible to gather the huge turds.

-once we have traced our route, we send out our Afro-Siberian Soviet Monster [link] to collect the stuff.

That's it. Sell to farmers.

django, Sep 28 2008

Afro-Siberian Soviet Monster Truck http://www.youtube....watch?v=_UURPksCIAA
The incredible Tatra Kolos - will carry 10 tons across any landscape on Earth - if necessary on other planets as well. The indestructible monster. (I merely put up this idea, because I want to ride one of these.) [django, Sep 28 2008]

More of the monster - amazing vid http://www.youtube....TH4&feature=related
These trucks used to carry nuclear war heads through the Siberian mud. The advantage of these machines: if a mountain happens to stand in the way, it will drive straight through it - as you can see. [django, Sep 28 2008]

Juggling with huge elephant turds http://www.youtube....watch?v=Rv6GKqeNQlM
A very interesting way to use the resource [django, Sep 28 2008]

McGiver type drinks fluids from elephant dung to demonstrate how to survive in the African bush http://www.youtube....watch?v=dJKD6ZTtFhw
McGiver / Survivalist types are always nice because they do nasty things to make great television. We eat donuts, french fries, and drink coca cola watching them doing all kinds of stupid stuff. [django, Sep 28 2008]

Pigeon towers http://www.darkroas...towers-of-iran.html
Automated animal-powered fertilizer factories. [BunsenHoneydew, Oct 02 2008]


       well [-] for the idea; i think living to what the land can produce works better, but [+] for using the word "anii" in a sentence (even though it should probably be "ani"...?).
Cool truck... old Unimogs are my favorite.
FlyingToaster, Sep 29 2008

       //i think living to what the land can produce works better//   

       Well, the land produces elephant dung.   

       Or do you mean we have to revert back to a pre-agricultural cave existence? In that case: after you, sir. :-)
django, Sep 29 2008

       dunno where my head was there, since the solution you propose is what I was bitching about... [+]
FlyingToaster, Sep 29 2008

       //A simple sensor will do the trick.//
How about a network of seismometers?
coprocephalous, Sep 29 2008

       //-we then use a simple algorithm to calculate where it is economically feasible to gather the huge turds.//   

       Not so. The TSP is NP-hard. Perhaps a random walk, or maybe pseudo-random walk :-). Or try behaviour conditioning.   

       Or maybe we just need a stomach without all the legs and penises/vulvae, i.e. biomass reactor. The bacteria primer could be elephant dung, but we don't rely exclusively on following elephants around. Sort of an elephant stomach in every village. Lots of sunlight to heat it, containment is not a huge problem (no large pressures need to be contained). Reagents might be a problem. But not more than tracking devices and Unimogs+diesel. Advantages: Get fuel and fertiliser; no chasing it around the savannahs (decreased efficiency); no complicated tracking and combinatorial optimisation.   

       On another tack, Paul Stamets (courtesy of a TED talk) is growing very interesting saprophytes in the form of fungi with limited reproductive processes. All the advantages of hardy biodegraders with none of the pesky overpopulation/desease problems. They die out over one generation and cannot contaminate the crop or stored crop.
4whom, Sep 29 2008

       I have first hand experience as a dog dung tracker. I recommend yard shoes with minimal tread.
bungston, Sep 29 2008

       [bungston], yep, that random walk collects more than its fair share...
4whom, Sep 29 2008

       I think elephant dung is probably less than ideal for fertilizer because so much is cellulosic rubbage - it is nondense as regards nitrogen and phosphorus.   

       Also elephants wander around. You would have to wander comparably to collect the dung.
bungston, Sep 29 2008

       As you noted, //dung spreads seeds//, most of which you don't want in your maize field.   

       Apart from that, though, [+].
lurch, Sep 29 2008

       [bungston] on very poor soils in Africa, any addition of organic matter is welcome. Elephant dung is very fibrous indeed, but at least it's plant matter that has received a 'first' treatment alreeady.   

       Plowing elephant dung into the soil is easier than plowing green biomass into a soil.   

       You say elephants wander around. Well, the entire idea is trying to cope with exactly that phenomenon. You track the dung, plot it on a map, and calculate the most optimal collection route.
django, Sep 30 2008

       As your original argument is framed in terms of dollar costs, how are you proposing to fund the fuel for your Afro-Soviet Monster Truck? I utterly refute the idea that you will come even close to break-even.   

       Far better to attract the dung to the fields. This is the idea behind traditional bird nesting towers [link]. Provide a cool and comfortable place for birds to nest; the birds forage abroad for nutrient mass, bring it to the tower, proess and concentrate it, and the farmer collects high grade fertilizer from the base.   

       A similar effect can be had by planting deep-rooted tree species that mine nutrients and water from far below the crop root layer, converting it diretly into green mulch, as well as into shade, nesting habitat and fodder to attract birds, and possibly elephants.   

       Find out about permaculture. The optimal solution to a low tech problem is usually equally low tech.
BunsenHoneydew, Oct 02 2008


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