Action: Use bees to deter crop damage by mammals (e.g. elephants) to reduce human-wildlife conflict
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- Three studies evaluated the effects on elephants of using bees to deter crop damage to reduce human-wildlife conflict. All three studies were in Kenya.
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- Human-wildlife conflict (3 studies): Three replicated studies (including one controlled study), in Kenya, found that beehive fences reduced crop raiding by African elephants.
Conflicts between farmers and free-ranging elephants occur in parts of Africa. Farmers on small plots may loose large proportions of their crops to raids by elephants. Some elephants are said to be wary of foraging near African honeybees Apis mellifera scutellata (Vollrath & Douglas-Hamilton 2002). Thus, fences comprising bee hives linked by wires may deter entry to fields by elephants, as well as providing a further potential crop (honey) for farmers. If successful, the intervention could reduce incentives for carrying out lethal control of elephants.
Vollrath F. & Douglas-Hamilton I. (2002) African bees to control African elephants. Naturwiss, 89, 508–511.
Supporting evidence from individual studies
A controlled study in 2007 on two farms in Laikipia, Kenya (King et al. 2009) found that a beehive fence (without resident bees) reduced crop-raiding by African elephants Loxodonta africana. Results were not tested for statistical significance. There were fewer successful crop raids on the farm protected by the beehive fence (7 raids) than on the unprotected farm (13 raids). Fewer individual elephants raided the protected farm (38) than the unprotected farm (95). The two farms, 466 m apart, each approximately 2 acres, grew similar mixes of maize Zea mays, potatoes Solanum tuberosum, sorghum Sorghum sp and beans. On one farm, nine hives were suspended under thatch roofs, along a 90-m boundary. A wire between hives connected to the wires suspending hives, so an elephant pushing against it caused the hives to shake, and bees to emerge. However, hives were unoccupied during the trial. The second farm was unprotected. Elephant raids were documented by farmers over six weeks in August–September 2007.
A replicated, controlled study in 2008–2010 on agricultural land around two villages in Kenya (King et al. 2011) found that beehive fences reduced entry onto farmland by elephants Loxodonta africana. Elephants entered farmland through a beehive fence less often (1 occasion) than they did through traditional thorn bush barriers (31 occasions). Following entry to farmland, elephants also left less frequently through beehive fences (six occasions) than they did through thorn bush barriers (26 occasions). Thirty-four farms were studied, of which 17 were protected along parts of their perimeters by beehive fences and 17 were protected solely by traditional thorn bush barriers. Beehive fences comprised a total of 149 beehives deployed in June–August 2008 and 21 deployed in April 2009. Hives were positioned 10 m apart. Farms were monitored over three crop seasons, from June 2008 until June 2010.
A replicated study in 2012–2015 of 10 crop fields in an agricultural community in Kenya (King et al. 2017) found that beehive fences deterred crop raiding by African elephants Loxodonta africana. Of 238 elephants that approached farms with beehive fences, more turned away (190 elephants) than broke through to raid crops (48). On 65 occasions, elephant groups approached to ≤10 m from beehive fences. Of these, 39 groups (114 elephants) turned back at the fence and 26 groups (50 elephants) broke through fences. Eight farm plots, each 0.4 ha extent, were enclosed by beehive fences, built in June 2012 to February 2013. Fences comprised 12 beehives and 12 two-dimensional plywood dummy hives suspended from a wire running continuously between fence posts. Pushing the wire caused hives to rock and bees to emerge. Elephant movements around fences were recorded by farmers.
- King L.E., Lawrence A., Douglas-Hamilton I. & Vollrath F. (2009) Beehive fence deters crop-raiding elephants. African Journal of Ecology, 47, 131-137
- King L.E., Douglas-Hamilton I. & Vollrath F. (2011) Beehive fences as effective deterrents for crop-raiding elephants: field trials in northern Kenya. African Journal of Ecology, 49, 431-439
- King L.E., Lala F., Nzumu H., Mwambingu E. & Douglas-Hamilton I. (2017) Beehive fences as a multidimensional conflict-mitigation tool for farmers coexisting with elephants. Conservation Biology, 31, 743-752