Elephant idea may catch fire

IT MAY sound bizarre, but an Australian scientist has suggested importing elephants as a way to prevent bushfires.

Professor David Bowman of the University of Tasmania has espoused this view in a provocative opinion piece, to be published in international journal Nature today.

He wrote, "a major source of fuel for wildfires... is gamba grass, a giant African grass that has invaded north Australia's savannas. It is too big for marsupial grazers (kangaroos) and for cattle and buffalo... But gamba grass is a great meal for elephants or rhinoceroses".

"The idea of introducing elephants may seem absurd, but the only other methods likely to control gamba grass involve using chemicals or physically clearing the land, which would destroy the habitat."

Gamba grass is declared by the government as a class two pest plant and can be found growing in small populations scattered across Queensland.

It carries eight times higher fuel loads than native forest pastures.


The Professor's argument

  • Australia is extremely fire-prone, with about 5% of the continent being burnt last year
  • Gamba grass, originally from Africa, has invaded large sections of north Australia's savannas, and is tolerant to fire at any time of the year
  • It's too large to be grazed by ordinary native fauna
  • Hence - bring in the elephants