Crop-raiding elephant herds often run into trouble with electric fencing around farms, while farmers without any protection measures around their lands suffer huge crop damage. An innovative idea to use bees to prevent both the loss of elephant lives and the loss of crops seeks to change the way the problem of man-animal conflict is addressed. Dr. Lucy King’s ‘Elephants and Bees Project’ has helped reduce such conflicts.
Active in 11 countries
Dr. King heads the Nairobi-based ‘Save the Elephants’ (STE) charity’s ‘Human-Elephant Co-existence Program’ and its ‘Elephants and Bees Project’, which is active in 11 countries mainly in Africa, Thailand and Sri Lanka. The project has also been adopted in Karnataka’s North Kanara district by the non-profit Wildlife Research Conservation Society (WRCS).
“A beehive fence is made up of interlinked live beehives, and ‘dummy’ beehives hung 10 metres apart and interlinked with a plain piece of fencing wire that, if disturbed, causes the whole fence to swing and release the bees as ‘natural electricity’ to deter crop-raiding elephants,” Dr. King told The Hindu in an email interview.
According to Dr. King, elephants are wary of bees. “My studies have shown that elephants will run from the sound of disturbed African bees as they fear being stung around the sensitive parts of their body, like the eyes, inside the mouth, and up the trunk,” she said.
She said that STE’s studies had found that the fences were effective in 80 per cent of cases, but bulls were more likely to risk such bee attacks, especially in a herd, and cause damage.
While Dr. King’s work focuses mainly on Africa, she said that each project was different and beehives were being used for different purposes. For example, “South Africa and Gabon are using beehives to protect important tree species from being damaged by elephants,” said Dr. King, who completed her D.Phil on the project from Oxford University.
Inspired by Dr. King’s experiment, the STE website quoted WRCS officials as saying, “pre-recorded bee sounds were broadcast during crop raiding events and they showed an instant withdrawal of elephants from the crop fields.” Following this, they have set up low cost beehives in clay pots, bamboo structures and wooden logs to deter elephants.
Source of income
Apart from acting as a defence mechanism for farms, beehive fences also act as an additional source of income, especially for the poorest farms. “The beehives can generate as much as 50 per cent more income for them in a year from the sale of honey,” she said. Dr. King noted that bees also have an important function as pollinators, adding, “Our studies have proven that farms with beehive fences experience fewer crop raids and consequently have higher productivity than those farm areas that are unprotected.”