That’s The Sting

As we know, farmers in Africa face constant struggles. Whether it’s drought, landscape degradation or the wild animals that prowl the periphery, there is always something to watch out for. Over the years many ideas have been trialled in order to protect farms and the livelihood of farmers. Though most of the time, this have been to little avail. Lions, hyenas and coyotes all pose a risk, but there is one animal, which, despite their best efforts, is rather trickier to keep at bay. The elephant.

Weighing in at up to 6000kg and standing at a height that can reach up to 4 metres, the African elephant, is indeed a force to be reckoned with. Conflicts between farmers and elephants are a big problem in Africa. Although the ivory trade is the main threat to this magnificent species, human interaction on farmland is another. Farmers will do anything to protect their fragile crops and sometimes, in doing so, both farmers and elephants can lose their lives. This is unacceptable, and a problem that needs tackling.

So, how on earth do you keep an elephant out? A huge fence? A massive ditch? Well, they’re all ideas, but as with many great ideas, not all that practical. However, all is not lost, because African farmers have been introduced to a rather revolutionary idea, which was all the brainchild of zoologist Lucy King. So, what was this fabulous idea? No, not mice. Actually, something much smaller: bees.

Despite the myth surrounding elephants being terrified of mice, it would seem that elephants do have an actual aversion to bees. These little insects cause havoc for elephants; a single sting to the inside of an elephants trunk can cause excruciating pain. Those of us who have been stung by bees, can sympathise. So, elephants and I it would seem, have something in common. Contrary to what my elder brother might tell you, no, I don’t have tusks or a trunk, but, just the sound of buzzing bees can cause me to sprint from an area faster than Michael Johnson. Elephants, it would seem, feel the same, with just that little sound causing a herd of elephants to vacate an area. To be fair, I am allergic, but apparently, that’s not an excuse for ‘such silly behaviour’. Anyway! With this knowledge, King wanted to see if placing suspended beehives at 10 metre spacings around a crop field would keep these giants out. In 2009, the idea was trialled and it was a huge success. So successful that it was the basis for The Elephant and Bees Project.

The project has taken off massively since its pilot and beehive ‘fences’ are being used across Africa. Kenya, Tanzania, Uganda, Botswana and Sri Lanka are just some of the countries now employing this successful method. But, as you have probably guessed, there are more benefits to this idea other than keeping out the elephant. These beehives serve as additional revenue for farmers who can sell the honey produced in local markets, as well as their crops seeing greater pollination. It’s a fantastic example of what we call ‘interspecies landscape engineering.’ Using a species, or a number of species to repair or benefit the landscape.

It’s a simple idea, but it is a little sparkle of genius!


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Eleanor Daisy Upstill-Goddard
I have been a bird enthusiast since I was a child and have just completed my MSc at Newcastle University on 'Biodiversity Conservation and Ecosystem Management.'
Eleanor Daisy Upstill-Goddard

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