Beehive fence stops attacks by hungry elephants (Thailand)


Terry Fredrickson, Bangkok Post

Date Published

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CHANTHABURI: After years of crop and house damage caused by wild elephants in Khaeng Hang Maew district of Chanthaburi province, a local farmer finally found a humane way to keep the hungry jumbos away without harming them – a beehive fence. 

The idea of using beehive boxes to protect her crops and house still delights Dararat Sirimaha, a rubber tapper, who earlier achieved little success in preventing the elephants from rampaging through her farmlands. 

She had to abandon large parts of her tapioca farm after it was destroyed by the elephants, eventually converting it into a rubber plantation early last year. 

She also cut down her banana trees, which elephants feast on, but still remained hopeless. 

Confrontation between the local residents and the elephants goes back a decade, but her patience ran out when the elephants attacked her house and injured her father one night. 

“It was very scary when 10 elephants surrounded our house and roared,” the 37-year-old farmer recalled. 

Despite the community’s efforts to scare the elephants away by setting off firecrackers, digging a canal and even building a concrete wall, nothing was able to stop the pachyderms from wiping out their crops. 

On hearing about the great success of using bees to deter elephants in Africa from the village headman, Ms Dararat had no other alternative but to try the new measure. 

It took nearly two months for her to pick up beekeeping skills and hang 40 beehive boxes from a pair of ropes strung between 2-metre-high wooden fence poles around her house. 

Each box contains thousands of bees. An army of angry bees will swarm out if an elephant pushes against the ropes while trying to get inside the crops. 

While a bee’s stinger cannot pierce an adult elephant’s thick skin, a bee can still cause an elephant to feel uneasiness around three sensitive areas – its trunk, eyes and ears, said Rachaya Arkajak, a researcher from the Phuluang Wildlife Research Station in Loei province. 

“Once the elephants are attacked, they have a painful memory of the place. They never revisit,” said Ms Rachaya, who has pioneered the use of beehive fences in Thailand. Even the sound of a bee buzzing can scare elephants away in just a second, she added. 

As proof of its effectiveness, Ms Dararat never experienced another attack by wild elephants after implementing the African solution. 

At the same time, she earns 8,000-13,000 baht from selling honey she collects from her hives every two or three weeks. Moreover, a sheet of pure wax comb which is used to produce candles has also become one of her income sources. 

She also sells homemade beehive boxes at 2,000 baht apiece, but sometimes she gives away boxes to other villagers who are suffering from elephant intrusions.