The tale of the elephant and the bee and how the farmer outsmarted them all (Kenya)


Jeremiah Wakaya, Capital FM Kenya

Date Published

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Human-wildlife conflict has without a doubt been a thorn in the flesh of most farmers in Kenya, particularly those neighbouring the country’s national parks and reserves.

Antagonistic approaches by farmers to deter wild animals from invading farmlands has often come at a costly price. In most cases, locals neigbouring the parks have lost their lives or even had themselves deformed as they try their best to protect their farm produce from being fed on by wild animals.

Wild animals too have been on the receiving end in this battle for survival which in most cases leaves them with no choice but to trespass farmlands in search of water and pasture and with an adult elephant estimated to consume about 200 kilos daily, the situation even becomes dire during dry spells.

This was the reality farmers in Iviani and Kyusiani Villages in Mtito Andei, Makueni county lived in before the introduction of a project that turned their lives around – beehive fencing.

According to Neville Sheldrick, a pilot who doubles up as a local coordinator of the joint initiative by the David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust and British Airways that has since 2014 provided farmers with beehive fencing to help keep elephants from the neighbouring Tsavo East National Park at bay, the beehives have  been proven to be 80 per cent effective compared to traditional methods such as shouting, lighting fires, exploding firecrackers, releasing dogs, hurling stones and banging of drums.

“Previously, elephant invasions were very high — so they built temporary fences but it was very easy for elephants to come through the fences,” he said.

During a visit to local farms, Neville explained how cost effective the fencing was, pointing out the fact that some of the hives suspended along the fences were actually dummy hives – this after they came to the realisation that elephants had learnt to associate the suspended bee hives with the presence of bees in the farms.

“The goal is to have eighty per cent occupancy,” he said. “We never have every single hive occupied but coincidentally during the wet season we record over eighty per cent occupancy.”

Neville pointed out that the 10-metre distance between hives had proved to be cost effective with an alternation of genuine and dummy behive.

Steven Musyoki, 54, a local farmer who has engaged in maize farming for almost 25 years, explained the challenge it’s been trying to keep his farm off limits from the jumbos.

“I even tried planting pili pili (pepper) alongside the maize to keep the elephants away  but the elephants were persistent. This (beehive fencing) is the most effective method I have seen so far.”

Other than this, Musyoki is also thrilled by the readily available market for his honey, which is bought at Sh300 a kilo, providing him extra income, above the proceeds he gets from selling other farm produce.

British Airways Business Development Manager, Sophie Onyango, described the partnership with the wildlife trust as, “a simple and clever solution to human, elephant conflict that is beneficial to everyone.” Onyango noted that such initiatives have redefined how farmers interact with wildlife as they achieve a balance between the interests of farmers and those of the wildlife bearing in mind the huge contribution the sector makes to the tourism sector and the economy at large.