Even in this advanced age of iPads and handjob robots (they have those, right?), mankind is still fighting a battle against nature. Whether the challenge is invasive swarms that we created through our own stupidity or simply trying to find a way to protect ourselves that doesn't include outright extinction, we're constantly being reminded that we're not the only link in the food chain. But damn it, we're humans, and we just need to use our big, tool-making primate brains to get an edge. And that's how we wound up ...
#5. Taking on Rampaging Elephants With Ping-Pong Balls
On the one hand, elephants are constantly under threat of being poached out of existence, thanks to their carrying valuable ivory around in their faces. On the other hand, it's hard to feel sorry for them when you're an African village watching a herd of them ruin your life -- one elephant raid can wipe out an entire village's food supply for a year. It's estimated that the annual damages per farmer range from $60 in Uganda to $510 in Cameroon. Many farmers feel that they have no other alternative but to use poisons like Furadan to kill marauding pachyderms. What the hell else is going to deter them? They're freaking huge.
Fortunately, the U.N. put their best and brightest on it, and they came up with an effective, if unconventional, solution: Ping-Pong balls.
Filled with C4.
It being the United Nations, they likely first sent the elephants a series of increasingly strongly worded letters in the hope that they would self-disarm. When that didn't work, their Food and Agriculture Organization recommended the use of a device called a Mhiripiri Bomber -- a gun that launches chili-pepper-filled Ping-Pong balls up to 150 feet. Research has proven that elephants do not like getting shot in the face with them. So poor African villagers have an effective, nonlethal way to deal with Dumbo and kin, and all it took was marrying a spicy South American seasoning blend with NERF technology.
It works equally well against those damn teenagers who won't stay off your lawn.
And if Plan A doesn't work, they also have a backup plan involving bees (which we'll call "Plan Two"). Elephants, it turns out, are terrified of bees, which sting their sensitive eyes and trunk. In fact, research has shown that elephants even have a word that means "Run like hell, the bees are coming!" Normally, this would not be terribly helpful, because it's kind of hard to train bees to attack things on command (it would qualify as an awesome superpower if you could). But they will defend their hive to the death. So, hey, why not stick a bunch of beehives on the fence?
It worked like a charm -- scientists monitored one stretch of bee fence for two years, and when it came to elephant attacks, the score was 44-1 in favor of the bees (44 elephants turned away, one got through, probably in a rage from being shot in the face with chili powder). And if maintaining a fence full of beehives sounds like a pain in the ass, it also works if you just play a recording of bee sounds over a loudspeaker.
Eight people died to get this photograph.
#4. Fighting Snakes With Tylenol
We're having trouble imagining something worse than a snake infestation, other than perhaps a flying snake infestation. But the former is what they were dealing with in Guam, after some brown tree snakes were accidentally introduced there after World War II. Since then, brown tree snakes have gone apeshit insane and eaten just about everything.
"You gonna finish that?"
There are about 2 million or so ravenous serpents out there now (that's about 12,000 snakes per square mile, in case you were wondering). Of the original 12 indigenous bird species, only two are left, and of those there are about 200 individuals alive ... at least until the snakes find them. And now the absence of birds is causing other problems. For instance, in recent years, Guam has seen a huge increase in spider populations. Without birds to keep their numbers in check, the spider population has grown up to 40 times normal. So millions of snakes and millions of spiders on a tiny strip of tropical paradise. Sounds lovely, right? But then you have the larger question of what millions of venomous snakes do when they run out of food. The answer is they start invading homes, crawling into beds and causing regular power outages. Note that they can grow up to 11 feet long, can cross gaps 65 percent of their body length and are great climbers.
Bruce Jayne, Sciencemag.org
Yeah. They can stand up now.
Hilariously, at this point much of the anti-snake efforts are devoted to trying to keep the damned things on Guam so they don't take over the rest of the world. They actually run spotlights along the fences at airports to make sure snakes don't sneak in and then stow away on a plane to end up some place politicians actually care about, like Hawaii. We're pretty sure they're this close to just fencing off the whole island and declaring it a snake prison, like a reptilian Escape from New York. Clearly, it was time to get creative.
The snakes, as it turns out, have a weakness: A mere 80 milligrams of acetaminophen, the active ingredient in Tylenol, is 100 percent deadly to a brown tree snake. For comparison, a normal human adult dosage is about 1,000 milligrams. The acetaminophen interferes with the snake's blood, disrupting its ability to carry oxygen.
Get the truck -- we're goin' snake huntin', bitches!"
Unfortunately, holding the snakes down and forcing them to ingest pediatric fever medication is even harder than it sounds. So the USDA and the EPA have been injecting dead rats with Children's Tylenol and air dropping them all across the island. The snakes eat the rats, the snakes die, everybody wins (except the snakes). And yes, we said "air dropping." Since the snakes mostly live in trees, they get the poison to the snakes by parachuting boxes of moldering rat corpses into the canopy, which has to be extremely confusing to any hiking tourists.
#3. Warding off Lions With Flashlight Parts
Nairobi National Park in Kenya has the world's highest density of lions. And if a park sounds like a fine place to keep them, keep in mind that it's only about four miles outside of the country's capital. Pulling lions out of people's backyards isn't uncommon, which sucks for the farmers (and their livestock) who live near the unfenced border.
Fortunately, 11-year-old Richard Turere solved the problem that has been plaguing mankind since the dawn of time ... for under $10. Richard noticed that there were never any lion attacks when people walked around the farms at night. He reasoned that lions don't like the flashlights people carry with them, probably because the lions think they're light sabers.
Stephanie M. Dloniak, NY Times
"Dad, I think it's Billy's turn to take out the trash."
"Nice try. Billy's dead, son."
If you're thinking that the answer is to just put up a bunch of light poles, keep in mind that it's not the lights they hate -- it's the humans carrying them. There's no way to patrol every property night after night, so Richard figured that he just needed to find a way to make it look like they were patrolling. So he took LED bulbs from broken flashlights and gathered them together in round arrays. He put four or five arrays around the outside of his family's livestock enclosure, pointing outward. Then he set them to flash in sequence, so it looked from a distance like somebody was patrolling the property, flicking their flashlight around.
If you think the lions would see through this ruse pretty quickly, you're wrong -- they've had two straight years of lion-free nights. A tween with no access to any sort of technical information or research took some spare parts and designed a system that halted all lion attacks -- something whole governments have been failing to do since forever.
Come on, at least tell us it shoots out lasers or something.
Oh, and did we mention they're solar-powered? The family has a car battery that they charge up with a solar panel; they use it to run their TV and, now, to hold lions at bay. Richard's little device of four or five lamps, some wires and a few batteries costs less than 10 bucks. His inventive genius has saved the cattle of his family and neighbors, possibly some family member or neighbor lives, as well as the lives of a number of lions who would have likely been shot in their raids.
"I intimidated an entire species of the fiercest predator on the planet. What did you do today?"