From a historic fable told by the Greeks (Pliny the Elder, in A.D. 77 to be exact) to the Disney movie Dumbo, the thought of an elephant cowering at the site of a mouse has captured our imagination at one point or another. It seems though it’s not mice elephants fear, but an even smaller creature – the honeybee.
Human-elephant conflict is well documented in Africa, particularly when it comes to elephants making their way on to farms and ravaging crops. Sometimes extreme measures are taken by farmers and community members, who will shoot or poison elephants to protect their crops.
Lucy King’s Research
In 2009 a pilot study was conducted by Lucy King and her research associates (King et al., 2009) in Laikipia, Kenya. Laikipia was experiencing high levels of elephant crop degradation, making it an ideal environment in which to study the effects of African honeybees, as a deterrent, on elephants. A 90 m fence of inter-connected hives was set up on two exposed sides of a two-acre farm. The results of the study showed that the bee fence contributed to an 86% reduction in successful farm raids and 150% fewer raiding elephants than a similar control farm (which didn’t have a bee fence). Lucy King’s doctoral research, was not only award winning, but it has been pivotal in the establishment of the Elephants and Bees Project. The project aims to expand the use of Beehive Fences across Africa as an elephant deterrent. To see a video segment on the project click here.
Simple, Inexpensive and Easy to Construct
Compared to electric fences, which are costly and difficult to source in rural corners of Africa, the beehive fences are inexpensive and simple in their design and construction. A beehive fence is made up of interlinked beehives (some are ‘dummy’ hives) and a piece of fencing wire that if disturbed causes the whole fence to shake, and a shaky fence means angry bees. King’s research also showed that even the sound of swarming bees is enough to send elephants running. It seems that an elephant’s good memory serves farmers well – “Elephants can identify bees by sound alone, indicating that they may associate the sound with a negative historic event” (Lucy King).
Honey, Honey, Honey
The beehive fences not only protect crops, grain stores, trees and water pipes, but they provide secondary benefits. Where there are bees, there’s honey. Communities can harvest the honey and wax products for sale or for their own use. A complementary study during Lucy’s research also showed that farms with a beehive fence had increased their crop yield by 15 – 30%. The bees are not only the protectors of crops, but the nurturers of them too.
The ELE Bee Fence Project, Victoria Falls
This year, the Econet Victoria Falls Marathon is supporting a similar project in Victoria Falls, with the help of Greenline Africa Trust. The human-elephant conflict in the area is an ongoing concern and elephants often make their way into the town. The project aims to erect a number beehive fences in Victoria Falls, especially between the Mkhosana Community Area and the Zambezi National Park. A percentage of the proceeds from this year’s marathon will go towards the ELE Bee Fence project. Runners can make additional contributions during sign up at the Kingdom Hotel on the 29th and 30th of June.
- Saved by the bee: The unlikely solution to Africa’s elephant problem – Written by Thomas Page for CNN
- Elephants and Bees Project
- Bee Fence – Al Jazeera, Earthrise