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PRI's Environmental News Magazine

Science Note/ Bees and Elephants

Air Date: Week of August 7, 2009

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An elephant in Kenya. (Whit Welles)

African elephants often trample farmers’ crops in search of food, but a new fence uses beehives to deter the pachyderms. Living on Earth’s Lisa Song reports on how the elephants’ fear of bees could be the key to helping local farmers.

Transcript

Coming up – a fast-growing plant with a funny name that’s no joke - but first this note on emerging science from Lisa Song.

[BEES BUZZING]

SONG: When it comes to bee stings, it seems that elephants never forget. And that’s the secret behind a new fence that uses beehives to stop elephants from destroying farmer's fields.

[THEME MUSIC]

SONG: For centuries, Africa's largest mammals have roamed the continent in search of food. Local farmers often find their crops trampled and eaten by migrating elephants. To protect their livelihoods, the farmers fight back with dogs, spears, and guns.

A more peaceful solution comes from honeybees. Researchers hung wooden beehives along a wire fence built around one farmer's field in northern Kenya. Any elephant that tried to squeeze past the wire triggered the beehives to swing back and forth. Although they were empty, the moving beehives were enough to send the elephants scurrying away in fear. Pachyderms are protected by their thick skins, but bees can sting elephants around their eyes or inside their trunk.


An elephant in Kenya. (Whit Welles)

After six weeks, the fenced farm suffered half as many elephant raids as a neighboring farm. The elephants ate 90% of the crops from the unprotected farm, while the first farmer collected a normal harvest.

With the success of one fence, plans are underway to build similar fences around 60 other farms. This time, the beehives will hold real honeybees; farmers can even sell the honey to cover the cost of fence construction. In the continuing conflict between wildlife and farming, the bee-fence could help both elephants and humans.

That’s this week’s Note on Emerging Science. I’m Lisa Song.

 

Links

Researcher Lucy King’s website

Link for original research article (near the bottom of the page)

 

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