Hungry People Cannot Care About Conservation: The First Beehive Fence in Niassa

Why would anyone want to build a fence filled with bees? Beehive fences, pioneered by WCN’s Save The Elephants (STE) project in Kenya, serve several purposes. These fences deter crop-raiding elephants, which are scared of the buzzing sound of the bees, and at the same time produce honey, which can serve as additional food and income for villagers.

Conservationists who are part of the WCN Network have the opportunity to share innovative conservation methods like the beehive fence with each other. Thanks to the donors who support WCN’s cross-partner internship program, Dr. Lucy King, STE’s beehive fence expert, visited the Niassa Lion Project (NLP) to provide guidance as the project’s team and local community members constructed the first beehive fence in Niassa National Reserve. Leading the effort from NLP’s team is Mbumba Marufo, who received a scholarship from the WCN scholarship program to test the beehive fences for his Master’s thesis.

Why work on beehive fencing in a project focused on lion conservation? In Niassa, as in many areas of Africa, food security in local communities is a problem that has impacts on a range of wildlife as well as people. If elephants are allowed to destroy crops, the destruction puts pressure on other food sources. Community members often turn to bushmeat as a source of food, which leads to lions killed by snares that were intended to capture bushmeat. Projects like the beehive fences address specific problems like elephant crop-raiding while also building confidence among local communities that there are solutions to many types of human-wildlife conflict. As NLP’s Colleen Begg says, “Hungry people cannot care about conservation”.

In early December 2012, after a flight from Nairobi to Pemba, Mozambique, and a day of shopping for construction materials, Dr. King set off with NLP staff on a twelve-hour drive to the Reserve. At the massive Lugenda River, deep inside the Niassa Reserve, the supplies for the fence were transferred with canoes across the river to a rugged two-track road and transported another twenty kilometers to the project headquarters. The following day a large community meeting with four village chiefs convened, and after much discussion a site for the test beehive fence was chosen.

Over the next three days, with fourteen local people working as volunteers, 120 meters of beehive fence were built for the demonstration project. No wire was used to ensure that none of the beehive fence materials could be turned into snares; instead strips of old rubber tires and baobab rope were creatively adapted to hang the hives on the fence.

This collaboration is already making a difference in Niassa. Bees have colonized five of the initial hives, and the community reported that ten elephants ran from the fence in one week. If this test site continues to grow in its effectiveness, beehive fences will be constructed in other sites in Niassa.

The fences will serve not just as a model for conservation in Niassa, but also as a model for creative ways that WCN Partners can work together.