The Bees Buzz on Climate Change

Text by Vivian Wasike, Kenyan Intern. 


Welcome to the captivating world of the Elephant and Bees Project, a remarkable initiative by ‘Save the Elephants’ Human Elephant Coexistence Program in Sagalla, Kenya, adjacent to the renowned Tsavo National Park. The project aims to foster a harmonious coexistence between people and elephants in the midst of the ever-rising effects of climate change.

Sagalla is a rural farming community in Taita Taveta County bordering Tsavo East National Park. The community is divided into Mwakoma, Mwambiti and Kajire villages. The farms within these villages are most affected by Human-Elephant Conflict, especially crop-raiding elephants. As a causative effect, these conflict occurrences have strained the delicate relationship between people and elephants.

The Elephant and Bees Project seeks to foster harmony between humans and elephants by harnessing the power of bees. This heartwarming venture benefits communities and wildlife through the artful relationship between honey harvesting and ecological preservation.

During my first fieldwork at the Elephant and Bees Research Centre, I got to experience a unique approach to coexistence- using bees as an elephant deterrent method. Research done by Dr Lucy King revealed that elephants feared African honey bees. The bees would use a natural instinct and sting elephants in sensitive body parts such as the ears, trunk and around the eyes. With this in mind, a beehive fence was born- a series of beehives and dummy hives interconnected by fence wires around a farm.

A beehive fence at farmer Ngati’s farm in Mwambiti village, Sagalla, Tsavo © Derick Wanjala

As part of owning a beehive fence, farmers are able to harvest elephant-friendly honey. One of the key pillars of the Elephant and Bees Project lies in its economic empowerment aspect. Not only does this provide financial benefits to the farmers whereby after harvesting the honey the research centre buys the honey from them but it also fosters a sense of coexistence- an attempt to align and trickle elephant conservation benefits to the people they interact with on a daily basis thus a better tomorrow.

Honey processing training with farmers from Kajire village, Sagalla, Tsavo © Meha Kumar.

Elephant-friendly honey © Save the Elephants

Bees, as pollinators, play an incredible role in maintaining the balance of ecosystems. Unfortunately, a changing climate has disrupted their habitats, leading to decreased numbers and as a result, a detrimental impact on plant life. Without these tireless pollinators, the ability to grow food diminishes significantly, creating a dangerous cycle that affects both humans and wildlife. The project encourages farmers to plant sunflowers- non-palatable to elephants- to help boost bee population.

A farmer in Kajire Village in his sunflower plantation, Sagalla © Derick Wanjala

The impact of climate change has been particularly severe in the Sagalla area which receives scanty rainfall- drought has become an unfortunate norm as the availability of flowers for the bees becomes a constraint. This harsh reality has not only affected human lives but has also taken its toll on the local bee population proving it hard to sustain bee colonies.

To attempt a solution to this, Elephant and Bees Team Project has helped by providing pollen supplements and sugar syrup as food for the bees to help with their survival during the dry season and also trained farmers to do so as well. The energy provided by these supplements enables the diligent bees to travel long distances in search of nectar and pollen. Small jars of water are encouraged to be placed outside homesteads despite the lack of water in the area to help sustain the remaining bee colonies.  The pollen supplement is made of syrup (a solution of water and sugar in a ratio of one to one) and candy (a mixture of honey, icing sugar and milk powder).

Supplementary sugar syrup provided for the bees © Camille Depre

The Elephant and Bees Project is not just a remedy for current challenges but also a massive leap to empowering a sustainable future for both people and elephants. By nurturing bee populations, implementing sustainable agricultural practices, and promoting conservation education, this project empowers communities to safeguard their environment for generations to come.

I was delighted to get the opportunity to witness just how important bees are in promoting human-elephant coexistence.


The views, opinions and positions expressed in this article belong solely to the author/s and do not necessarily reflect the policy and position of Save the Elephants

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