Elephants, people and bees
Subsistence farmers who live around Ruaha National Park live in constant fear that elephants wandering outside the park boundary will raid their crops. Elephant crop raiding events can result in heavy losses for local farmers, and cause people to feel enormous animosity toward these animals which are perceived as a threat to their livelihoods. This negative perception of elephants makes them extremely vulnerable to poaching, an activity which is currently devastating elephant populations in Ruaha, and across Africa.
One of the most effective strategies we use to prevent elephant crop raiding behavior, is to enclose farms with “beehive fences”.
This method was developed by Dr. Lucy King (Save the Elephants), who observed that elephants naturally avoid bees -imagine the risk of bees flying around inside an elephant’s trunk! The design incorporates locally constructed beehives, which are strung intermittently between wooden poles to compose a primitive fence. When elephants bump into the fence and disturb the associated hives, the sound of bees causes elephants to flee. You can see elephants reacting to the sound of bees in this rather amazing video, courtesy of Dr. Lucy King:
The method exploits a relationship that elephants have long shared with bees in their natural environment, and it has been shown to be quite effective. Importantly, this strategy also offers farmers an alternative to farming (an activity which puts them in immediate conflict with wildlife), through the harvest and sale of honey. It may also encourage local people to plant and even reforest areas, as an increased abundance of plants would increase the bee population.
The work of Wildlife Connection
We tested beehive fences for two consecutive years using the most basic type of beehive, made from hollowed out logs, and found that it very successfully deterred elephants. In 2014, we used the more sophisticated Kenyan Top Bar Hive (pictured below), which produces higher quality, marketable honey, to build five beehive fences in one of the villages most effected by elephant crop raiding. These “first generation” fences have provided desperately needed help to people whose farms are raided every year, and also serve as demonstration sites for other farmers in the area. In 2015 and 2016, Wildlife Connection will work with local farmers in two more villages to build 10 additional beehive fences. We are also developing marketing and distribution plans to help farmers sell their “elephant safe honey” around Tanzania and beyond.