Bees keep the peace between elephants and farmers

25th October, 2011 by Anonymous

Beehive fences are proving effective at deterring crop-raiding and reducing human-elephant conflict.

Growing elephant populations in Kenya have been a conservation success story, but for the villagers who have inadvertently settled along the animals’ ancient migration routes, they’re a crop raiding menace. Locals resort to shooting or poisoning the animals in an effort to preserve their livelihoods.

The green solution? Beehive fences. A team from the University of Oxford and charity Save the Elephants has completed a two-year trial project in the Samburu Game Reserve, where they placed fences studded with beehives as a barrier around 17 farms. The simple wooden beehives were suspended on wires in the fences, with a flat roof to protect them for the sun.

The team were testing the theory that the African honey bee is an effective deterrent to elephants. While the sting can’t penetrate their hide, the bees often sting around the eye and inside the trunk, causing considerable discomfort to the vast creatures. The trial has been a striking success, turning away elephants in 97% of attempted raids. It’s a win-win-win situation: farmers have been able to grow crops in peace; elephants haven’t suffered any lasting harm; while the bees have produced honey, sold in branded ‘elephant-friendly’ pots. It’s a high income, low maintenance crop which has contributed to the farmers’ livelihood.

“It’s a fantastic result,” said Shelley Waterland, Programmes Manager at conservation charity the Born Free Foundation. “Human-elephant conflict is a key focus for our African Elephant Action plan, and inexpensive solutions like this, where everyone’s a winner, are great.” Another unlikely piece of conflict resolution is taking place in Sri Lanka: passion fruit farming. The fruit has a good market value and the elephants don’t like them, so again, farmers generate an income and protect their crops. – Laura Dixon

Photo: Mike Smith/Thinkstock

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