Wednesday, 21 December 2011

Elephant No. 80: Wire Mesh

I came across a package of aluminum mesh when tidying up the other day. No idea why I bought it, but it seemed like a good thing to try for today's elephant.

Fine wire mesh, or "wire cloth" appears to have existed as far back as the 1750s, but no one is quite sure of its origins. Although wire mesh has many uses, fine wire cloth was used primarily in the paper-making industry in its early years, and was produced on fabric looms. Because the looms had not yet been adapted for wire, the quality of the weave left something to be desired.

The mesh I'm using today is less like a wire cloth and more like a fine mesh. I couldn't find any information on the origins of wire mesh, either, although woven wire barriers have been around for centuries. The first commercial wire mesh was probably invented in the second half of the nineteenth century, originally of steel, then copper, brass and other materials, depending on the intended purpose.

Today, wire mesh is made of everything from aluminum to platinum. It can be woven, knitted, welded, electroformed, or even chemically etched. Its uses are myriad, from the screens on your windows, to uses you'd never think of such as radiation shields in microwave ovens, electronic drum heads, and optical filters.

I've never used any kind of mesh or wire before to make something sculptural. The closest I've come is shaping wire screens to keep vermin out of my house. Other than a series of photos and a suggestion that I could use the mesh to create a base for plaster or clay, there were no instructions on this package. I figured I'd just have to dive in and see what happened.

(By the way, I apologize for the next four photographs. I had the point-and-shoot digital camera on the wrong preset, so it thought it was looking at a night landscape. I've fixed them as much as I could, but well, you know.)

To avoid dealing with the crimped folds already in the mesh, I cut out one of these panels, which measured about 12.7 x 20 cm (5 x 8 inches).

I truly had no idea how I should go about shaping this, so I folded it in half, then contemplated it for a few minutes.

It then occurred to me that, malleable and shapeable as this fine mesh is, I wasn't going to be able to make legs without cutting it. So I cut each long side about 5 cm (2 inches) towards what would become the belly. Then I made a sort of v-shaped channel in the back where its tail would go, and a dent towards the front to indicate the back of its neck.

I had by now realized that I wasn't going to be able to shape a head from what I already had, so I cut another piece of mesh about half the size of this original piece. I forgot to photograph that part—distracted no doubt by the way the itty-bitty ends of the mesh like to cling to clothing and skin—but you can more or less see how I went about shaping the head. I stuck with very simple shapes, cutting up both sides of the piece of mesh to a depth of about 5 cm (2 inches), and about 2.5 cm (1 inch) from the back of the head. This formed the ears, which I simply folded out towards the sides. I then just sort of squished the mesh to make a thick trunk.

The head also kept falling off, so I cut a thin strip in the mesh at the front of the body and "locked" the head on by folding the resulting tab through the forehead area of the head.

The last thing I did was cut a thin wedge of mesh to make a tail. I used the thin end to attach it into the body, and twisted and shaped the thicker end to look more or less like an elephant's tail.

This took me about 15 minutes to make, which I thought was enough for the simple shape I had envisioned before I started. Any more time, and I think I would have been overworking it.

I liked working with the material (aside from its propensity to wound me), and think I might try it again when I have more time to make something elaborate—perhaps even something I can cover with plaster or clay.

Elephant Lore of the Day
Fencing against the depredations of elephants has proven notoriously unsuccessful to date. Given the increasing number of confrontations between elephant and human populations, researchers around the world have been working hard to come up with effective ways of keeping elephants on preserves, and out of villages and farmers' fields.

In practice, the problem of fencing appears to have more to do with improper maintenance than with the actual ineffectiveness of the technology. Electrified fences, for example, work quite well at keeping elephants away from crops, food storage facilities and water sources—even if they consist of a single electrified wire.

Over the years, many other methods have been tried, to various degrees of success. Ditches and moats, for example, while somewhat effective against Asian elephants, are vulnerable to soil erosion. Elephants have also learned how to kick in the sides of the trenches and cross them. Stone walls have proven more successful in Africa, but they are expensive to build, and are better if topped with a simple electric fence.

Buffer crops have also been tried. Farmers plant things that elephants don't like—such as sisal, tea, timber and tobacco—around their food crops, hoping to deter elephants. This method has proven near useless, as elephants simply trample the buffer crop to reach the food. Hot peppers have had some limited success, but only if used with another method such as fencing.

One of the most unusual "fences" is the African bee fence. Knowing that elephants dislike the African honeybee, researchers in Kenya set up a fence with nine beehives for a 2007 study. The hives were contained in hollow logs, suspended between the posts of a barbed wire fence. Elephants would try to push through the areas between the hives, which caused the fence to swing wildly, disturbing the bees. As the bees swarmed out, the elephants ran away. Researchers discovered that an adjacent farm without a bee fence endured twenty-one successful elephant raids within a six-week period, while the property with a bee fence suffered only seven.

To Support Elephant Welfare 

Elephant sanctuaries (this Wikipedia list allows you to click through to information on a number of sanctuaries around the world)
Performing Animal Welfare Society
Bring the Elephant Home
African Wildlife Foundation