From: Georgia Achia, SciDevNet, More from this Affiliate
Published May 14, 2014 08:02 AM

Bee booby-traps defend African farms from elephants

Wire fences booby-trapped with beehives are being built in five African countries to prevent elephants from raiding farms, while also providing local people with honey.

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'Beehive fences' are now being put up in Botswana, Mozambique, Tanzania and Uganda by UK charity Save the Elephant, says Lucy King, leader of the Elephants and Bees Project in Kenya — and they are already in use at three communities in Kenya.

The project, which is a collaboration between Save the Elephants, the University of Oxford in the United Kingdom and the Disney Worldwide Conservation Fund, studies how to use the African bush elephants' instinctive avoidance of African honey bees to avoid crop losses.

King says conflicts between farmers and elephants are a growing problem, with the animals' encroachment onto farms causing massive crop losses.

But she tells SciDev.Net that it is easy to construct simple beehive fences using local materials.

"Hives are hung every 30 feet and linked together," says King. "If an elephant touches one of the hives or the interconnecting wires, the beehives all along the fence swing and release the stinging insects."

She says that a pilot study she led involving 34 farms on the edge of two farming communities in northern Kenya found beehive fences to be an effective elephant deterrent compared with traditional thorn bush barriers.

King says that in the study, which was published in 2011 in the African Journal of Ecology, elephants made 14 attempts to enter farmland and 13 of these were unsuccessful. In each case the elephants were forced to turn away from the area after confronting a beehive fence or walk the length of the fence to choose an easier entry point through a thorn bush.

Only once did elephants break through a beehive fence to eat crops, according to the paper.

More than a decade ago, research found that elephants avoid feeding on acacia trees with beehives in them, says King. "This was followed by behavioural experiments demonstrating that not only do elephants run from bee sounds, but they also have an alarm call that alerts family members to retreat from a possible bee threat," she says.

Continue reading at ENN affiliate, SciDev.Net.

Bee image via Shutterstock.

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