Beehives keep invasive jumbos off farms in Tsavo (Kenya)


Patrick Vidija, The Star

Date Published

See link for photo. 

For a long time, conflict has reigned between wildlife and some communities around the Tsavo East National Park, often leading to loss of property, especially crops, and lives.

To mitigate these human-wildlife conflicts, the British Airways, in partnership with the David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust, carried out a pilot project that would provide a natural solution especially in Mtito Andei, which is elephant-prone.

The Sh700,000 project was first piloted in 2014, with the help of British Airways funding and provision of equipment and protective clothing for the communities working with the hives.

The project targeted farmers in Mtito Andei and focused on construction of beehive fences to act as a boundary for agricultural land.

The fences were not only to keep away elephants but also a source of income for the farmers harvesting honey along the park.

Two years down the line, the farmers are benefiting from the project’s success.

“Last year, British Airways provided additional grant money for the construction of another 2.6km of beehive fencing to protect farms in Iviani and Kyusiani villages, close to the border of the national park, increasing the number of beehives to 131,” said Sophie Onyango, British Airways business development manager.


She said the beehives are strategically suspended along the fence, which skirts the boundary of an agricultural plot.

“When an elephant trying to enter the plot disturbs the fence, the bees become agitated, and since elephants are averse to the sound of bees, they are naturally repelled,” she said.

Onyango explained that the hives and the posts holding them are painted with distinctive markings so elephants quickly associate the fence with bees and choose to avoid them altogether.

This improves cost-efficiency, as not every hive needs to be active. A percentage of the hives are constructed as dummies without any functionality, she said.

The plot owner is encouraged to maintain the fence because they benefit from the income the honey collected provides.

“Initial indications were positive, showing the fences to be at least 80 per cent effective, with only two of 10 elephants finding a way through,” she said.

Onyango said last year is when the beehive fence concept was thoroughly tested as the region experienced one of its longest droughts and highest temperatures in recorded history, forcing hungry elephants to forage further afield.

At the same time, the Standard Gauge Railway being built across the Tsavo National Park has constricted elephant movements. The high temperatures and limited water also affected the bees, so there was not enough honey to be harvested, she said.

Neville Sheldrick, the local coordinator of the project, said before the project, farmers were desperate for a solution and hence were receptive to the idea.

“Residents are also avid beekeepers and were enthusiastic about getting modern beehives, from which they earn income from selling to the local market. DSWT also guarantees sales for the honey,” Neville said.

Stephen Musyoka, one of the beneficiary farmers, said they would not have planted anything if the fence had not been in place, as they could not afford to have the elephants destroy their crops.

“The problem is elephants, or more specifically, what happens when populations of wild elephants come into contact with rural farmers,” he said.


Musyoka said animal-human conflict occurs all to often in areas bordering national parks in Kenya, especially when elephants follow their exceptional sense of smell to track down vegetables or crops from farmers’ fields.

“For the subsistence farmers, a single night elephant raid can destroy the entire farm, which is devastating, considering that elephants can consume up to 400kg of food a day,” Musyoka said.

He said before the project, farmers would respond by shouting, lighting fires, exploding firecrackers, releasing dogs, hurling stones or chilli bombs and banging drums or metal sheeting.

“When all this didn’t work, we resorted to spears or bow and arrows, resulting in people and elephants being killed or injured,” he said.

Musyoka said electric or other fencing is not ideal, as it is expensive to erect and maintain.

Onyango said fences can also cut wildlife corridors, resulting in overgrazing and permanent damage to ecosystems.

“Confining elephant herds can cause population explosions, with consequences for the elephants, other wildlife and the ecosystem,” she said.

She said in contrast, bees are easy to keep because they don’t disrupt wildlife migration, provide farmers with another source of income and most importantly, elephants dislike them.

According to her, since a drought hit the areas last year, the first ‘elephant-friendly honey’ has been harvested and packaged for sale at the David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust’s gift shop in Nairobi.

The main reason why an airline is involved with elephants is tourism and a simple, clever solution to human-elephant conflict can only be beneficial to everyone, she said.


Tsavo East National Parkis one of the oldest and largest parks in the country at 13,747 square kilometres.

It is situated in a semi-arid area previously known as the Taru desert near the town of Voi in the Taita Taveta county.

The park is divided into east and west sections by the A109 road and a railway.

Named after the Tsavo River, which flows west to east through the national park, it borders the Chyulu Hills National Park and the Mkomazi Game Reserve in Tanzania.

The park forms the largest protected are in the country and is home to most of the larger mammals, vast herds of dust–red elephant, rhino, buffalo, lion, leopard, pods of hippo, crocodile, waterbucks, lesser kudu, gerenuk and hirola.