Farmers in Kenya are using bees to keep elephants from plundering their crops as part of an initiative to promote a non-lethal approach to elephant-human conflict.
Bees are crucial pollinators, but it has been discovered that the gigantic mammals fear them, especially when the insects are swarming.
Save The Elephants, a UK-based nonprofit, is assisting farmers in erecting beehives along the margins of their farmland to create a sort of “fence” to dissuade foraging pachyderms from reaching their crops.
Jones Mwakima farms in Kajire Village, which is adjacent to the Tsavo National Park and has been the site of multiple elephant raids. He claims that elephants will devour a substantial chunk at breakneck speed.
“When an elephant raids your farm, half an hour (of crop raiding and eating) in the farm is equivalent to eight hours in the bush. The problem is that they will just eat 40 per cent and 60 per cent will just be destruction,” he says.
The huge mammals need a lot of food to survive and as settlements encroach on their habitat, it creates conflict with their human neighbours. This has created a big challenge for conservation in Kenya.
“Now people are coming there to build houses, to farm, so this is blocking the migratory routes for elephants leaving them with nothing but to come to these farms and crop raids,” says Victor Ndombi, Food Security and Livelihood Project Officer at Save The Elephants.
The organisation gives the hives to farmers for free and claims it is getting requests from the communities it works with for more installations.
Farmers can supplement their income by collecting honey and beeswax from the beehives.
“We love the bees because they help us to protect the farm. I rely solely on farming, I am not employed so it is my main source of food to my family, and I also derive money after the surplus to educate my children,” says Mwakima.
Another farmer in the area, Nahashon Mwagalo, has also had sleepless nights over elephants grazing on his harvest. He now prefers to grow sunflowers rather than maize.
“Sunflowers do not require much attention, as I don’t have to watch out for elephants. I don’t lose sleep, unlike when I used to plant maize and I had to stay awake to watch out for them,” he says.
But elephants need protecting too. It is estimated that only some 415,000 of them are still left in the wild in Africa. It’s hoped these bee fences will be a non-lethal way of defusing the tension between them and humans.
Save the Elephants has put out a guide book to help inform rural communities on how to prevent elephant raids, modelled on its Elephants and Bees Project.