Bee the Change

Deforestation, degradation, and fragmentation of their natural habitat have resulted in a rise in human-elephant conflicts, which has landed the Asian elephant (Elephas maximus) a secure position on the list of endangered species. Incidents such as the damage and destruction of property, the raiding of farmers’ crops, and incidents involving injuries and sometimes death of people or elephants are becoming more frequent. The preferred solutions chosen to reduce human-elephant conflicts are generally quite expensive, unsustainable and/or ineffective. Many of these common methods are only effective for a short time as the intelligent creatures promptly find a way to bypass it. For example, elephants use tree branches to push down electric fences so that they can enter plantations without harming themselves. This type of fencing also needs endless fixing and comes with a price of expensive monthly electricity bills.

We need your help now to realize this project so that people and elephants can live together and so that biodiversity can thrive once again. Please support this project with a donation through this secure link.

Bees and elephants

In Kenya, scientists made the remarkable discovery that elephants are scared or wary of bees! The elephants have even adopted a special call used to warn the rest of the herd when they are in the vicinity of bees (Soltis, 2014). Experiments were conducted by using the sound of bees and the results showed that elephants walked away when they hear the sound of the disturbed bees (King, 2007). In Zimbabwe, researchers found similar results when they mounted beehives in trees that often were damaged by wild elephants (Karidozo, 2005).

Dr. Lucy King developed the concept of beehive fencing, as a new and sustainable solution to avoid crop raiding in areas highly trafficked by elephants. Whilst electric fencing goes against nature, beehive fences use connections in nature as the solution. It is a solution that provides a plethora of benefits for all involved. The resident communities benefit through the sales of honey and the reduction of elephant-caused damage and destruction of their crops. The pollination work of the bees increases biodiversity and even increases the yield of the crop that they protect. As a result of strategically placed beehive fences, elephants and humans can share the same area in harmony.

Elephants and bees have something in common: as keystone species, they make life possible for others. They play an important role in maintaining the ecosystem they are part of. The removal of a keystone species will have drastically negative consequences which will directly affect the many other species that depend on them. Honeybees are keystone species because they are pollinators. About 33% of the crops in the world depend on pollination by animals such as bees and 60–90% of plant species depend on animal pollinators (Kremen, 2007). Elephants make life possible for others by creating grass fields, trails and water access points. In areas with a dense canopy, elephants open up patches of forest. These light gaps will turn into grass fields and increases the biodiversity of the forest. Many plant species also depend on elephants for seed dispersal and germination. The diet of elephants contains a lot of seeds, which they will spread through their dung kilometers away. The fibrous dung is rich in minerals and an excellent fertilizer. It provides the perfect conditions for seeds to germinate and for fungi to grow.

Why should we care? Because without elephants or bees, even our own species future is at risk. By using beehives as a deterrent strategy, the bees are helping to create harmony in a situation of conflict, whilst improving the biodiversity of the forest.

Beehive fencing is a new phenomenon in Asia and these projects aim to contribute to a global understanding of HEC (Human-Elephant Conflict) solutions. Recently, pilot projects have been launched in Sri Lanka (by Save the Elephants) and North-eastern Thailand (by the Phu Luang Wildlife Research Station). To get an idea of local interest in beehive fencing as a human-elephant conflict mitigation method, Bring the Elephant Home organized an educational tour to the first beehive experiment in Thailand in December of 2015. During the educational tour, 40 local community members, park rangers, NGO staff and scientists from Kanchanaburi learned about the utilization of beehive fencing as a solution to mitigate HEC. The participants had a positive reaction to the proposed method and returned to their village both inspired and enthusiastic about the idea of a new, improved, and more sustainable method of preventing human-elephant conflicts. The knowledge that was gained from this capacity building tour was then incorporated in short-term project proposals designed to help the local community to reach their goal of living at peace and in harmony with the wild elephants of Kanchanaburi.

Recently, in March 2016, BTEH conducted a survey amongst 46 plantation owners located in human-elephant conflict areas in Kanchanaburi. Through this survey, we found out that:

  • 54% of the individuals working in agriculture stated that portions of their crops are destroyed by elephants on a daily basis.
  • 70% of the villagers who took the survey would prefer the elephants to be altogether eradicated.
  • 52% of the participants stated that they wouldn’t adverse to finding a better way to stop the wild elephants from raiding crops.
  • 94% of the participants showed a great interest in beehive fences: 33% are willing to go ahead with the method of using beehive fences immediately, and 61% would prefer to to learn more about this new method before going ahead.
  • 59% of the participants in the survey said that they want to receive support in the form of training on how to construct the beehive fences, 35% on the training of beekeeping and a mere 11% answered that they would like to receive financial support.

After the research, networking and study tour was completed, the stakeholders are ready to launch the “Bee the Change” project. Instead of expensive electric fences, we choose to replace them with a smarter and more sustainable solution. The Bee the Change project will have a largely positive impact on the biodiversity of the forest, on the livelihoods of villagers and on the lives the elephants that inhabit it.

We need your help!

If you would like to help us creating more beehive fences, please donate to this campaign. We are looking to raise $3,000 in order to install beehive fences in the areas that need them most.

Help spread the word!

  • Support this project with a donation through this secure link.
  • Please share this page and the Bee the Change video on all of your social media pages.
  • Join our charity bike ride Bike for Elephants to visit the beehive project in Chanthaburi, to have a chance to see elephants in the wild and to raise the needed funds to build more beehive fences
  • Join us on Facebook
  • Travel sustainably: take your time to visit National Parks to see elephants in the wild, instead of tourist places to interact with elephants in captivity.
  • Plant bee-friendly flowers and herbs.

Special thanks to:

Critical Ecosystem Partnership Fund (CEPF) of IUCN and Fondation Ensemble for their financial support for this project.

And all our supporters through our Kickstarter campaign at Indiegogo: Thank you so much for your donation! Sylvie Quessada, Yasmina Aulés, Mary Ulseth, Eve, Lotte Witty, Marny Blom, Christin Hesse, Floris Quant, Robyn Lauster, Emily Ventura, Aurora Steil, Lange Heike, Jessi Nabuurs, Alison Miethke, M J Ashton, Ron Mura, Elies, Gerard Brinkman, Ilse Chang, Kees Kodde, Rini Antonissen, Bernadette Vieverich, Valentijn van ‘t Riet, Katie Badowski, Laura Marx, Bradley Smith, Sarah Quick Pappalardo, Kurt Reynertson, Perky Smith-Hagadone, Jorg Fockele and the Edge Chiang Mai. Together we can make a difference!

Coming soon… elephant friendly honey, fresh from the beehive fences in Phuluang Wildlife Sanctuary:

Literature Cited

Karidozo, M., Osborn, F.V. (2005). Can bees deter elephants from raiding crops? An experiment in communal lands of Zimbabwe. Pachyderm No. 39.

King, L.E., Douglas-Hamilton, I., Vollrath, F. (2007). African elephants run from the sound of disturbed bees. Current Biology Vol 17 No 19 R832

Kremen, C., Williams, N.M., Aizen, M.A., Gemmill-Herren, B., LeBuhn, G., Minckley, R., et al. (2007). Pollination and other ecosystem services produced by mobile organisms: a conceptual framework for the effects of land-use change. Ecology Letters. 10: 299–314 doi: 10.1111/j.1461-0248.2007.01018.x

Soltis, J., King, L.E., Douglas-Hamilton, I., Vollrath, F., Savage, A. (2014) African Elephant Alarm Calls Distinguish between Threats from Humans and Bees. PLoS ONE 9(2): e89403. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0089403

Vollrath F., and Douglas-Hamilton I. (2002). African bees to control African elephants. Naturwiss. 89, 508–511.

Photo’s: Ana Grillo and Vivi Sriaram