Elephants and Bees in Sri Lanka


By Dr Lucy E. King and Kylie Butler

Date Published

With the growing success of our Elephants and Bees Project in Africa, (see www.elephantsandbees.com), there has been increasing interest from elephant projects in Asia to see if we can export our beehive fence idea to help Asian farmers from Asian crop-raiding elephants. Sri Lanka has almost 6000 elephants packed onto a relatively small island. The human-elephant conflict issues are severe and will only increase as development and human expansion grows in this post-war country.

Essential to our research is trying to understand how Asian elephants will respond to Asian honey bees, Apis cerana indica. We know they are notoriously less aggressive than their African honey bee cousins, Apis mellifera scutellata, but its possible that elephants may still come across wild beehives and prefer to avoid the stinging insects.

In order to assess if beehive fences may be an appropriate elephant deterrent method for Sri Lankan farmers, and indeed the rest of Asia, we have started two research projects in Sri Lanka. First, we have teamed up with Dr Shermin de Silva and her team at the Uda Walawe Research Project. In June 2014, Dr Lucy King spent a fascinating month driving around Uda Walawe NP trying to understand how elephants might react to the sound of disturbed honeybees. This was a challenging but very rewarding experience, a chance to learn more about Asian elephant social structure, foraging behaviour, and also an opportunity to observe the famous “dwarf” bull elephant who lives in the park.

Dwarf Elephant

The dwarf elephant who lives in the Park. Watch a film of him winning a battle against a full-sized opponent here!

Secondly, our new PhD student, Kylie Butler from Newcastle University in Australia, has joined our Elephants and Bees team to assess if communities next to Wasgamuwa National Park may be interested in trying beehive fences as one deterrent method to stop the many crop-raiding elephants that cause havoc in the harvesting season. In partnership with the experienced team at The Sri Lankan Wildlife Conservation Society, Kylie will spend the next 3 years studying the elephants in this stunning area of the island and we look forward to keeping you updated on her progress.

Asian Elephant

Watching an Asian elephant