Diverting Elephants with Beehives

Chris Umeki
Oct 17, 2017 · 2 min read
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African honey bee © JMK used under Creative Commons Attribution license

As the human population increases, elephant crop-raids on farms become more frequent and damaging. To protect their crops, their means of living, farmers sometimes try to scare elephants away or shoot at them. The devastating crop damage causes locals to become less tolerant of wild animals in general. Some conservationists are using a new tactic called beehive fencing to divert elephants away from human inhabited areas.

Elephants are cautious about feeding near African honey bees, so a beehive fence, consisting of beehives hung at regular intervals around the periphery of a small-scale farm, uses this knowledge to effectively ward away elephants. An added benefit is that the hives provide farmers income from honey sales. Beehive fencing had its first real world trials on savannah and Asian elephants. When tested on savannah elephants in Kenya¹, beehive fences reduced elephant intrusions by 80%. Participants benefitted from crop protection and the sale of 228 kilograms of honey from 131 hives. Hearing news about these interesting fences, farmers requested to join the study.

Steeve Ngama et al.² were the first to test forest elephant reactions to beehives. They wanted to see if beehives would keep elephants from feeding on fruit trees in Gabon. Ngama and his colleagues used empty beehives and allowed bees to colonize them naturally. The elephants visited fruit trees with hives less frequently and for shorter durations. This effect occurred even at inactive hives, but was more significant with active hives, showing that some elephants distinguished between active and inactive hives. While past studies suggested any active beehive was sufficient to deter savannah elephants, Ngama found that forest elephants would not easily be stopped. Elephants risked bee attack to get fruit from trees with low activity hives. In addition, bees deserted the beehives, sometimes in response to beetle or ant attacks. The study emphasizes that active hives are most successful, meaning skillful beekeeping is crucial if beehive fencing is to be implemented.

The increase in crop-raiding by elephants is a clearly a serious problem. Conservationists have not found an infallible solution that will successfully deter elephants in any situation, but beehive fencing has shown itself to be one effective tool for conservationists and farmers alike.

References

¹ King, Lucy E., Fredrick Lala, Hesron Nzumu, Emmanuel Mwambingu, and Iain Douglas‐Hamilton. “Beehive fences as a multidimensional conflict‐mitigation tool for farmers coexisting with elephants.” Conservation Biology (2017).

² Ngama, Steeve, Lisa Korte, Jérôme Bindelle, Cédric Vermeulen, and John R. Poulsen. “How Bees Deter Elephants: Beehive Trials with Forest Elephants (Loxodonta africana cyclotis) in Gabon.” PloS one 11, no. 5 (2016): e0155690.

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