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Controlling crop-raiding elephants with bees

In Africa, the lives and livelihoods of local people are threatened by elephant crop raids. In Kenya alone, elephant numbers have grown to around 7,500 over the last 20 years, resulting in more frequent human-elephant conflicts. To help combat the issue, researchers at the University of Oxford explored affordable, non-violet elephant deterrents using bees. Bees were chosen as locals suggested that elephants in the area avoided feeding on acacia trees that hold hives.

Anecdotal evidence was confirmed by researchers, who went on to identify the factors associated with beehives that deter elephants. In Kenya, field trials allowed the researchers to develop a model for building effective beehive fences using inexpensive, easily available materials. Introducing beehive fencing stopped around 80 per cent of elephant crop raids, increasing food security whilst reducing the number of human-elephant conflicts. In addition, bees have reportedly increased crop pollination and have supplied farmers with ‘elephant friendly’ honey and beeswax to supplement income. The successful Kenyan trials also led to the adoption of beehive fences across the country, and were included in the Conservation and Management Strategy for the Elephant in Kenya 2012 - 2022.

Beehive fences have now been successfully applied in Tanzania, Mozambique, Uganda and Botswana and are being tested in other countries, including India and Sri Lanka.

The project was funded by NERC, along with ESRC, the Disney Worldwide Conservation Fund, the St Andrews Prize for the Environment, The Future for Nature Award, the Rufford Foundation and a number of smaller organisations.

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