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Elephants and Bees

June 28, 2021

What is the Elephants and Bees Project 


Would you believe us if we told you that the massive, almighty elephant is terrified of the tiny African Honey Bee? Well, best believe it because it’s true! In fact, Dr. Lucy King used this knowledge to launch an award winning research project called the “Elephants and Bees Project” that now saves elephants’ lives and protects farmers’ livelihoods. 


Who is Dr. Lucy King? She is an integral part of the Save the Elephants team whose research has been pivotal in creating coexistence between elephants and the local communities around them. Dr. Lucy King was brought up in Somalia, Lesotho and Kenya, and has been researching the use of honey bees as a natural deterrent for crop-raiding elephants since 2006. Her award winning work has done wonders for the elephant population, the honey bees, and the surrounding communities who are working hard to build a livelihood for their families. 


As much as we love elephants, it is sad to say that human interaction is one of the biggest threats they now face. The human population in Africa is sharply rising year over year and with it, a steep decrease in the amount of habitat available for elephants. As elephants find their homes shrinking they are forced to look elsewhere for new sources of food. Elephants, being herbivores, are attracted to plant farms and one small herd can ruin a family’s year-supply of food in mere hours. There needed to be a nonviolent solution that not only kept elephants safe, but allowed families who had been growing crops on the same land for generations to continue their work. 


Local tribesmen and conservationists at Save the Elephants found the solution to this interaction while walking amongst trees that elephants had destroyed. They saw one tree that remained untouched, and the tribesmen explained that this was because there was a bees nest in that tree that deterred the elephants away. After research and experimentation was conducted by Save the Elephants and Disney, this claim was proven to be true; elephants are scared of bees. The researchers tested this theory by playing recordings of bee sounds near elephant herds and watching as the elephants began shaking off the “bees” and running away. Vocal recordings of this interaction catch the elephants grumbling in a way that warns elephants nearby. Using this information, Save the Elephants and Disney worked together to eliminate encounters between human farmland and hungry elephants using bee fences. 


By creating a fence made up of both beehives and artificial bee hives, Dr. Lucy King found a way to deter elephants from these local communities and dangerous areas. The beehives house hundreds of honey bees while artificial beehives or ‘dummy hives’ are hung every ten meters and linked together. All hives are connected by a wire. When an elephant bumps into this wire, the bees’ presence becomes evident as they begin to buzz and fly around, which causes the elephant to run in the opposite direction. After installations of these fences, farmers have seen elephants arrive at their land, unable to trespass and eat their crops. Additional bee pollinators also help to increase pollination rates of natural vegetation such as trees, bushes, flowering shrubs and wild grasses.

Save the Elephants collects the honey produced from these beehive fences and sells it with profits going back to the beehive farmers - a true symbol of elephant and human co-existence. So far, 55 beehive fences and 650 beehives have been installed around communities in Sagalla to reduce elephant crop-raiding. The project has also expanded into 20 countries in Asia and Africa. The results have been hugely rewarding with an 80% success rate at keeping elephants out of farms. Alongside other mitigation methods such as chili farms, watch towers and a wonderful concoction called Smelly Elephant Repellent, the beehive fences have given conservationists hope of finding a real solution to human elephant conflict. To learn more about the Elephants and Bees project, click here:

(Photo Credit: Jane Wynyard)



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