How Bees are Helping Farmers Live Alongside Elephants.
Tuesday 21st February 2017
The tiny bee defends an impoverished farmer against the advance of enormous and hungry elephants, providing honey that eases any residual bad feeling. A fable? No, this is the new reality for farmers living next to Tsavo East National Park in Kenya.
Just how real is the subject of research published today showing that ‘beehive fences’ successfully defended ten small-scale farms on the front line of elephant incursions from Kenya’s largest elephant population in Tsavo. Over three and a half years 253 elephants entered the farming area of Mwakoma Village, usually when crops were ripening. 80 per cent of the time the elephants were turned away by the beehive fences, and the resulting success has resulted in a rapid uptake of beehive fences by other farmers in the community.
Elephants are in peril across most of their African range. Poaching for ivory is an acute, high-profile issue but incidents of conflict between humans and elephants are increasing. When elephants come raiding, small-scale farmers can lose the food that was to support their family for the season, and their revenge can be fatal.
‘Beehive fences’ are a novel solution that has proven to be astonishingly successful, as described in the new paper, published today in the journal Conservation Biology. Elephants don’t like bees and will run at just the sound of the angry buzzing emitted from a disturbed hive to avoid being stung around the sensitive eyes, mouth and trunk.
This novel and natural inter-species behaviour has been adapted to provide ten farmers next to Tsavo East National Park in Kenya with income-generating beehive fences that link one beehive to another around the outer side of their farms to keep the elephants at bay. In the 3.5 year collaborative study conducted by Save the Elephants, Kenya Wildlife Service and Mwakoma Community, not only did the beehive fences keep 80% of elephants out of the trial farms but the guardian bees provide the farmer with pollination services for their crops. Additionally 228kgs of delicious ‘Elephant-Friendly’ Honey was produced for sale generating over $3,300 of gross income.
The research was designed and led by Dr Lucy King from Save the Elephants who has spent over 10 years exploring the use of honey bees as a natural deterrent for crop-raiding elephants.
“We had 253 elephants visit our ten beehive fence protected farms over a 3.5 year period and only 20% of them managed to break the fence to access the crops” stated Dr King, “With 80% of the elephants successfully turning away from the farms, the 10 pilot farmers have been so enthusiastic about the fences that a further 12 farmers from the community asked to join the project by the end of our trial.”
Over 24 farms are now using beehive fences in the Sagalla area and the beehive fence concept has spread to three other communities next to Tsavo East in the last 18 months.
“These results are very encouraging and will contribute to the ongoing conservation and management strategy for elephants in Kenya” stated Fredrick Lala from Kenya Wildlife Service who co-authored the paper, “Although we still have many challenges for protecting wildlife corridors and securing a future for elephants in Kenya, novel mitigation methods such as the beehive fences can greatly contribute to small scale farmers living in better harmony with elephants in the country”.
The study showed that not only did beehive fences significantly reduce the chance of elephants breaking through the farm boundary to enter the crops but that the 20% of elephants that did break the fences were in smaller group sizes and therefore were more easily able to be chased away by the farmer once inside. Elephants were also more likely to enter the community during the drier periods when demand for food is likely to be higher. No elephants broke a beehive fence during heavy rain periods.
News of the beehive fence success has spread fast and farmers and projects in 10 countries across Africa and 3 in Asia are now trying this novel beehive fence design as a deterrent for elephants for both farms and iconic trees.
“Beehive fences are an exciting new tool in the box of deterrent options available for farmers living with elephants but we mustn’t forget that human population growth is continually compressing the home ranges of elephants and other wild animals,” said Dr King. “We must find more permanent solutions to securing natural spaces and critical corridors for elephants to use before we smother their habitat with agriculture and other irreversible developments”
“The beehive fence is a natural, sweet solution to diminish conflict between man and elephants”, said Dr Iain Douglas-Hamilton, founder of Save the Elephants.
For more details on the different countries that beehive fences are now being tested in and also to download a free Beehive Fence Construction Manual go to www.elephantsandbees.com
Publication Title: Beehive fences as a multi-dimensional conflict management tool for farmers co-existing with elephants
Journal: Conservation Biology – Conservation, Policy & Practice Section
Contact for Lead Author: Dr. Lucy King: [email protected]
Website: More information about the project at www.elephantsandbees.com
Lead Author: Dr Lucy King is Head of the Human-Elephant Co-Existence Program for Save the Elephants and a Research Associate at the University of Oxford, Department of Zoology. She is Director of The Elephants and Bees Research Center next to Tsavo East National Park and conducts training for project managers and farmers wanting to establish new beehive fence project sites around Africa and Asia. In 2013 she won The St Andrews Prize for the Environment and the Future for Nature Award, and the UNEP CMS Thesis Award for her doctoral work in 2011. For profile see: http://elephantsandbees.com/about-us/
About Save the Elephants (www.savetheelephants.org)
Save The Elephants works to secure a future for elephants in Africa. Specializing in elephant research, STE provides scientific insights into elephant behaviour, intelligence, and long-distance movements and applies them to the challenges of elephant survival. Through our thriving Education and Outreach programs, we reach out to hearts and minds, making local people the true custodians of their own rich heritage. Our human elephant conflict mitigation research, especially through beehive fences, has successfully reduced the number of crop-raiding incidents and provides farmers with elephant-friendly alternative sources of income. To battle the current surge in ivory poaching, our Elephant Crisis Fund is identifying and supporting the most effective partners in Africa and in the ivory consuming nations to stop poaching, thwart traffickers and end demand for ivory.
About the Kenya Wildlife Service (www.kws.go.ke)
KWS is a state corporation with the mandate, run by a Board of Trustees, to conserve and manage wildlife in Kenya, and to enforce related laws and regulations. KWS undertakes conservation and management of wildlife resources across all protected areas systems in collaboration with stakeholders. It is our goal to work with others to conserve, protect and sustainably manage wildlife resources, its habitats, and provide a wide range of public uses in collaboration with stakeholders for posterity. The Kenya Wildlife Service continues to strengthen the approach of science- driven wildlife conservation and management. These approaches include inter alia protecting and ensuring survival of particular endangered species and ensuring sustainable management of wildlife and their habitats for posterity.
Location of Research: Mwakoma Village, Sagalla Community, Tsavo East National Park border, Taita-Taveta County, Southern Kenya.
Website: More information about the project at www.elephantsandbees.com
Photos: High resolution photos are available from all aspects of the project from beehive fence construction, beehive occupation, honey harvesting, honey processing, community members next to beehive fences, elephants approaching beehives in the dark and elephants running from bee sounds. Please see website for the photos that are available: www.elephantsandbees.com
Video: Video clips are available of elephants running from bee sounds and various activities around the project. Click here to see example of short film footage available for journalists to use: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wkpNZx8YY-o&feature=youtu.be
Sound files: We have .wav sound files available for sharing of wild African honey bees (Apis mellifera scutellata) being disturbed and the rumbles that elephants make in response to these bee sounds.