The interaction between humans and elephants in Africa is often fraught with tension. One particular source of conflict lies within crop fields, which elephants frequently raid for an easy source of food, destroying fences and anything else that lies in their path. A single raid by an elephant family can easily take away a year’s worth of food for a farmer. Violent retaliation can lead to fatalities, human and elephant, a situation that no one wants to see repeated.
One particularly innovative technique to keep elephants safely away from farmers’ crops, pioneered by Dr. Lucy King of Save the Elephants, utilizes an elephant’s natural aversion to bees and beehives to protect fields in an eco-friendly, conflict-free way that benefits everyone.
Save the Elephants’ conservationists learned of elephants’ fear of bees while walking in the bush. They found a strand of decimated trees, but within that mess there was one tree that had escaped unscathed. Local Samburu tribesmen pointed out a hive in the tree, telling the conservationists that elephants were afraid of bees. Elephants even have a special alarm call to alert other elephants that there are bees nearby! As good scientists are prone to do, the conservationists embarked on a series of experiments, playing recordings of bees near a group of wild elephants to gauge their reaction. Sure enough, the elephants were not pleased with the idea of bees close by, so they cleared out. Thus, the idea for beehive fences was born.
The fences are brilliantly simple in execution. A series of hives are set up on the perimeter of a property, linked together with a piece of rope or string that they are hung from. An elephant walking towards a field will run into the rope chest first, causing the hives to swing back and forth. Agitated bees will emerge, and their buzzing will scare the elephants off, saving the crops and the elephants alike. There’s an added benefit as well- the honey! Farmers earn extra income by jarring and selling their elephant-friendly honey.
A three-year study by Dr. Lucy King has shown the project is remarkably successful, with elephants being dissuaded in 80% of the situations studied. This innovative low-tech “technology” shows that sometimes reducing human-animal conflict can be a relatively easy and simple process.