Learning from the Elephants and Bees Project

Report written by Esther Serem, Beehive Fence Training and Database Officer

Last week I received the incredible news that I have secured funding to follow my dreams of completing my Master’s degree in Wildlife Management at Newcastle University in the U.K. This comes nearly two years after I started applying for courses and scholarships overseas, and I can’t wipe the smile off my face!! It all started with working at Save The Elephants’ Elephants and Bees Project, and learning about human-elephant conflict.

Before an aerial elephant survey with STE’s CEO Frank Pope (left) and GIS officer Michael Koskei. Photo: David Kimanzi


Human-wildlife conflict is an increasing conservation concern, and will continue to escalate if effective mitigation measures aren’t in place. Human-elephant conflict (HEC) in particular has been increasing due to a reduction in elephant habitat as a result of the rising human population. Seventy-five percent of elephant habitat is found outside protected areas, and development in these areas is happening so fast, with little consideration for the world’s largest mammals. After learning about this, how could I not want to do as much as I can!?

Many different measures are currently used worldwide to mitigate HEC. Modern methods such as beehive fences pioneered by Dr. Lucy King at Save The Elephants have been successful in helping communities keep away 80% of the elephants from entering their farms. Here in the Sagalla community, 25 farms are protected from elephants raiding shambas (farms). Hives are hung 10 meters apart with a connecting fence wire – this has proved to work by keeping majority of elephants away. I have always thought that the elephants can habituate to the beehive boxes but they cannot habituate to stings – just like us. I have learnt that I am not quite correct in my assumptions!

A beehive fence constructed with Kenyan Top Bar Hives protecting farmland. Photo: Lucy King

Suiting up before beehive fence night work. Photo: Jessica Van Fleteren

The Elephants and Bees team checking if honey is ready to harvest from a beehive. Photo: Jessica Van Fleteren


Over my time I have received many visitors who are interested in seeing and learning about this innovative project, and they have come from all over the world. Expanding the project has been a dream to Dr. Lucy King and has so far seen 15 countries explore the idea that elephants are afraid of bees, and implement beehive fences. Many visitors and trainees through the project have gone on to do just this, and I am proud to receive and always train them.

With a team from Exeter and a beehive donated by Save The Elephants. Photo: Emma Settle


The Elephants and Bees Project has a great passion in continuing to share our knowledge and skills, and we now have the capacity to be doing this through visiting other NGOs who are interested in incorporating beehive fences into their mitigation toolkits. With our new Mobile Unit in mind, we just last week visited the Big Life Foundation, Tsavo Trust and Maasai Wilderness Conservation Trust to assess the possibility of starting new beehive fence projects, or to further train those who we have already helped build beehive fences. It is such an exciting time for everyone at the project!

I am so thankful for the amazing experiences I have had at the Elephants and Bees Project, including all the people I have met along the way. I have learnt so much, and it has opened my eyes to the wide range of conservation issues that we face. Further, I have been so impressed by the wide range of active NGOs that come from far and wide to learn about the conflict we have in Tsavo, in addition to the general public’s great interest in protecting our environment and taking the time to visit our project. This is only the beginning, and I am so excited to share my knowledge of human-elephant conflict with my fellow Masters’ classmates in the UK in September!

Some of the wonderful people I’ve met at STE: PhD student George (center) and our former camp co-ordinator Naiya. Photo: Naiya Raja


Leave a Reply