The Elephant and the Bee and Other Real Life
We know how valuable bees are. There’s no
food security without them, as the film Silence of the Bees tells us. It takes
a look at what’s at stake if honeybees disappear. Now we hear of innovative
beehive fences which have helped a community in Kenya to successfully protect
crops from elephants.
By Ella Davies , Reporter, BBC Nature (15
Farmers maintain the valuable hives
Innovative beehive fences have helped a
community in Kenya to successfully protect crops from elephants, according to
Scientists found the hives to be a very
effective barrier; elephants turned away from them in 97% of their attempted
Conservationists suggest that elephants’
natural fear of bees could settle ongoing conflicts.
The hives’ honey also produced additional
profits for farmers.
Elephants and farmers compete for limited
resources Over the past 20 years, elephant numbers in Kenya have grown to
around 7,500 and the population boost is widely heralded as a conservation
However, conflict between elephants and
humans, especially farmers, is an ongoing problem.
Elephants frequently “raid” farms
searching for food such as ripe tomatoes, potatoes and maize.
To protect their livelihoods, some farmers
have resorted to extreme measures including poisoning and shooting elephants.
The honey production and consequent income
has really incentivised the farmers to maintain the fences”
Previous research into natural deterrents
showed that elephants avoided African honey bees.
In 2009, experts from the University of
Oxford, UK, and the charity Save the Elephants set up a trial project to test
whether beehives could prevent conflict on farmland boundaries.
After two years of observations, the full
results of the trial have now been published in the African Journal of Ecology.
“Finding a way to use live beehives was
the next logical step in finding a socially and ecologically sensitive way of
taking advantage of elephants’ natural avoidance behaviour to bees to protect
farmers’ crops,” said Dr Lucy King, the University of Oxford biologist who
led the study.
“It was very exciting to see that our
theoretical work has been converted into a practical application,” she
AFRICAN BEE FACTS
Bees cannot sting through elephant hide, but
they can and do sting around elephants’ eyes and inside trunks
The bees in Kenya (Apis mellifera scutellata)
are small with short tongues and swarm frequently
African honey bees were crossed with European
honey bees in South America and are known as “killer bees” because of
their increased aggression
Find out more about African elephants
In 32 attempted raids over three crop
seasons, only one bull elephant managed to penetrate the novel defences.
The beehives were suspended on wires between
posts with a flat thatched roof above to protect from the sun in the
traditional Kenyan style.
The team created a boundaries for 17 farms,
incorporating 170 beehives into 1,700m of fencing.
“The interlinked beehive fences not only
stopped elephants from raiding our study farms but the farmers profited from
selling honey to supplement their low incomes,” Dr King explained.
“The honey production and consequent
income has really incentivised the farmers to maintain the fences.”
Conservationists now hope to roll out the
scheme to other farming communities.
Silence of the Bees
In the winter of 2006, a strange phenomenon
fell upon honeybee hives across the US. Without a trace, millions of bees
vanished from their hives. A precious pollinator of fruits and vegetables, the
disappearing bees left billions of dollars of crops at risk and threatened our
food supply. The epidemic set researchers scrambling to discover why honeybees
were dying in record numbers — and to stop the epidemic in its tracks before it
Silence of the Bees is the first in-depth
look at the search to uncover what is killing the honeybee. The filmmakers of
Bees take viewers around the world to the sites of fallen hives, to high-tech
labs, where scientists race to uncover clues, and even deep inside honeybee
Silence of the Bees is the story of a
riveting, ongoing investigation to save honeybees from dying out. The film goes
beyond the unsolved mystery to tell the story of the honeybee itself, its
invaluable impact on our diets and takes a look at what’s at stake if honeybees
disappear. Silence of the Bees explores the complex world of the honeybee in
crisis and instills in viewers a sense of urgency to learn ways to help these
Silence of the Bees premiered on PBS October
Exclusive Podcast: In this podcast,
scientists and bee experts featured in the program discuss the crucial role
that honeybees, a “keystone species,” play in our economy and ecosystems, as
well as bees’ fascinating social organization and what we can do to reverse the
decline of nature’s pollinators.