Guard Bees Are Here To Save The Day

An organization in Kenya has devised an ingenious, humane way to prevent elephants from eating and trampling farm crops: bees.

by Cory Hershberger
PHOTO: Elephants & Bees

A cornerstone of agriculture has always been innovation. Farmers are always coming up with new ideas to protect crops from pests and disease while maximizing yields and, by extension, profits. But in sub-Saharan Africa, where the herbivore snacking on your fresh harvest is no mere deer or rabbit, but rather the largest land animal in the world, it can be exceedingly difficult to keep your crops safe. Bright lights and air horns work some of the time, but farmers can’t be human scarecrows 24/7, and fencing is too expensive to install for most farms. Enter the Elephants & Bees project.

This revolutionary campaign, which is spearheaded by Dr. Lucy King and was created by a partnership between Save the Elephants, The University of Oxford and the Disney Conservation Fund, provides farmers with an ingenious solution to elephants stealing and trampling their crops: a beehive fence.

The concept couldn’t be simpler. Beehives (or dummy hives) are constructed ten meters apart along a farm’s border and a trip wire is strung between each hive. If an elephant touches the wires, the hives along the fence all swing, and the bees zoom out to defend themselves. Elephants have a longstanding adversarial relationship with bees, even having a distinctive warning call when the insects are present, and will flee at the mere sound of them. The bees help with the farm’s crop pollination while keeping the plants safe from elephant raids, the flagging honeybee population gets a continuous boost and the farmers get to harvest an additional crop—honey—at the same time: It’s a win-win for everyone! (Sure, the elephants don’t get to enjoy farm-fresh crops, but the fence is keeping them safe in the long run.)

The system boasts over an 80-percent success rate, and is exceedingly cost-effective, costing only a few dollars per meter. Beekeeping is an age-old tradition to Africa, as well, so farmers are open to the idea and adapt to it easily. Beehive fences are currently in use in 10 African and Asian countries, and two more nations are considering their use—talk about a great idea!

Read more about the beehive-fence system or donate to the organization on Elephants & Bees’ website.

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