Can elephants mind their own beeswax?
Field Report by Interns Emily Belcher and Nishi Shah, Elephants and Bees Project
Over many years, elephants have continuously raided farms which has ultimately ended in loss for the farmers or tragedy for the elephants – however the introduction of beehive fences, based on the theory that elephants are afraid of bees, has really helped. This now award-winning project has successfully reduced conflict between elephants and farmers and has increased their crop yield whilst also creating financial opportunities through elephant friendly honey.
During the dry season when beehive occupancy is typically at its lowest, the benefits of the fence are difficult to foresee and in response farmers are discouraged and less inclined to upkeep their fences. It is critical for the farmers to maintain the beehives throughout the year as it will help them in the long term. The main advantage is to reduce crop damage which hugely benefits the farmers but also encourages human-wildlife coexistence as farmers are not likely to retaliate with then contributes to elephant conservation. The fences have also proved to be financially advantageous for the farmers as they can harvest the ‘Elephant-friendly’ honey. It is important for the community to be entirely involved in the process of putting up the fence and understanding that it is a natural deterrent.
The European Union has funded projects to help mitigate the effects of droughts and floods in Sagalla which have been implemented by the National Drought Management Authority (NDMA) and Save The Elephants (STE). Twenty-five fences have been donated to the local farmers of Mwambiti and Mwakoma. Alongside building fences, the NDMA have further encouraged the growing of elephant non-palatable crops such as chilly, Moringa and sunflowers as well as providing water which flows from Mzima Springs to Kajire village.
Our team really encourages and promotes women to be a part of the beehive fence construction because they are typically the ones left to maintain the beehives. This is also important, especially in times of COVID-19, where families are struggling, hence, this work which includes protecting crops and harvesting honey can provide for them. Empowering these women through including them in the project drives them to be more independent and possibly start their own business, developing the community further.
Beehive fences are continuously built throughout the year however during the rainy season there is a lot of forage and water, providing plenty of food for the bees. For this reason, the beehive fences are constructed mainly during the dry season, where there is low hive occupancy, so that there is enough time for the bees to occupy the hives. It is also very important that beehive occupancy increases at the beginning of the rainy season as this is when elephants typically move into the community to raid farms and crops.
On the 23rd of October, The Elephants and Bees team and other generous members of the community constructed the first beehive fence in the NDMA project, funded by Hallsey Souder/LFC. This fence was for the assistant Chief, Paul Mwamvula’s shamba in Mwambiti. The day started off with a word of prayer from one of women who owns a beehive fence and a few words of encouragement from Dr Lucy King. With all the helping hands and division of labour we managed to complete the entire fence in just over 3 hours. Women, men and children of all ages were digging holes, lifting poles, carrying hives, hanging dummies and connecting wires. In the end, everyone was rewarded with KDF (a type of mandazi) and chai for their hard work! To conclude the day, the beehive fence project manager, Derick Wanjala explained how it works and the general maintenance required by the farmer which further reinforces the fact that the farmer is in complete ownership of the fence.
Tabitha Mwai was chosen to be a part of the Sagalla integrated livelihood project due to crop raiding elephants paying many visits to her farm. Our team and members of the community completed this fence in 2.5 hours (we believe this was due to the moral support of Winkie and Socks, our Centre’s pets!) We are aiming to beat the centre’s record of 2.25hours! The donors of this build were Triadelphia Ridge Elementary School and Ellicott City MD. As a token of gratitude, Tabitha was insistent on feeding everyone Muthokoi (beans and corn without husks)!
On a final note, both these builds have been met with enthusiasm and excitement on both the farmers and the teams’ part. We hope that these fences will provide comfort and a sense of security for both Tabitha and Paul as well as promoting human-wildlife coexistence to the surrounding community.
The views, opinions and position expressed in this article belong solely to the author/s and do not necessarily reflect the policy and position of Save the Elephants