Harvesting and Processing Elephant-Friendly Honey

Report written by Joy Gacamiu Muthure, Grants and Communications Officer

The Elephants and Bees Project uses elephants’ natural fear of honeybees as a deterrent against crop-raiding. Beehive fences are constructed by interlinking beehives which swing and release bees when disturbed by elephants entering the farm (see our Beehive Fence Construction Manual). This method has kept 80% of elephants out of farms at our main project site in Sagalla, Tsavo area. Apart from offering much-needed protection to many rural farming communities and supporting declining honeybee populations, beehive fences also supplement farmers’ income through the sale of Elephant-Friendly Honey!

African honeybees are particularly aggressive so protective bee suits, gloves and boots must be worn and exposed skin covered before disturbing any occupied hives.

The team helping each other secure their bee suits before checking the hives for honey to harvest. Photos: Madi Schiller-Chan


Honey harvesting

The collection or gathering of honey from a beehive is known as ‘harvesting’. Bees produce honey from nectar and deposit it in wax combs which may then be collected from the hive – using smoke during this process makes the bees easier to handle.

Beehive Fence Project Officer Emmanuel lighting a smoker to control bees during night-work. Photo: Jessica Van Fleteren

 

Honey bees are less active and likely to swarm at night than during the day when it is hotter, so we carry out work on any occupied hives after dusk.

The team checking occupied hives at night. Photos: Madi Schiller-Chan

 

Honey combs collected from beehives can be sold whole or the honey may be extracted and sold separately.

Emmanuel with honey combs from a Kenyan Top Bar Hive (KTBH). Photo: Tess Morrison

Fully capped honey comb from a Langstroth beehive. Photo: Jessica Van Fleteren

Honey processing

To extract the honey, we first de-cap the combs by removing the layer of wax sealant.

 

We then spin the bars in a manual centrifuge (spinner) to separate the honey from the comb.

Spinning the combs to extract honey. Photos: Madi Schiller-Chan

 

Our honey is raw and organic – we use simple mesh to filter impurities and do not apply heat or any other treatment.

Filtering honey. Photo: Madi Schiller-Chan

 

The honey from different farms comes in an array of shades, and ranges from sweet to almost peppery – none is the same. These properties (taste, colour, viscosity) depend largely on what flowers the bees forage on. To differentiate the honey, we tag each jar with information about the project and a brief story about the farmer who produced it.

E&B Project Leader Dr Lucy King labelling jars of Elephant-Friendly Honey. Photo: Madi-Schiller Chan

 

Following a severe two-year drought in our project area and beyond, the recent rains have brought with them increased beehive occupation and we have managed to harvest 130 jars of Elephant-Friendly Honey so far! Due to high local demand we do not export the honey but use sales to increase project awareness. In addition to producing honey, wax from beehives can be used to make candles and other products.

Honey, lip-balm and candles are relatively simple to produce from beehive fences. Photo: Madi Schiller-Chan

 

There are beehive fence sites in fifteen countries so far (eleven in Africa and four in Asia) and some have already produced their own Elephant-Friendly Honey:

Elephant-Friendly Honey from a beehive fence built using traditional log-hives in Karnakata, India. Photo: Wildlife Research Conservation Society

Harvesting honey from beehive fences in Central Nepal. Photo: Roshan Kumar Thakur

Honey from the Phuluang Beehive Fence Project in Thailand. Photo: Rachaya Arkajak

Elephant-Friendly Honey on sale at Khao Yai National Park in Thailand. Photo: Phuluang Wildlife Research Station

 

The production of Elephant-Friendly Honey from beehive fence project sites is a testament to the transformative power of sustainable, community-led, elephant-friendly solutions to heal attitudes and improve livelihoods in farming communities facing the devastating effects of human-elephant conflict.

 

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