Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Elephants and Bees


One of my favourite sayings when confronted with a huge problem is "How do you eat an elephant?"  The answer:  "One bite at a time."

For many years in Africa agricultural farmers have struggled to protect their crops from the wilds.  Elephants have voracious appetites and would learn of the succulent leafy vegetable pickings in farmer's gardens.

They'd raid the gardens, often at night.  And they'd keep coming back.  This created a deadly conflict between the villagers and the elephants that would sometimes result in the death of either the farmer or the elephant.

This definitely classifies as a huge problem.

[Photo of zoologist Lucy King]

The farmers had attempted many solutions with varying degrees of success.  They would put up fences, burn torches at night, fired off shotguns, etc., but none of these methods were effective enough.

The farmers needed their crops for food and income.  Their livelihoods were at stake.  Elephants need to forage and follow their migratory routes.  And they need to eat too.  Would one side have to lose to the other in this situation?

By this time you are probably starting to wonder what this story has to do with bees.  Well, a lot actually.

In fact, bees were the perfect solution to this problem.
We've all heard the comical story of how a huge pachyderm would panic and run off in fright at the sight of a mouse.  It turns out that these giant denizens are afraid of more than mice.

They're also afraid of bees.  It was an African Zoologist Lucy King, who learned that 90% of elephants will run away at the sound of bees.  They'll even do warning sounds to other elephants to stay away.  Elephants don't like getting bee stings inside their trunks.  Lucy took this knowledge to the next step by building beehives into fences around crops or compounds.

When elephants would grab or shake the fence to break through the bees would be disturbed and come out.  Then the elephants would run away.  It worked beautifully and the farmers increased their income with the honey sales--sold with the label "Elephant Friendly Honey".

See a video on the elephantsandbees.com website showing how even playing a recording of bees buzzing causes elephants to flee.

Lucy King sure knows how to eat an elephant problem--complete with honey on top.

You can read more about this ongoing project at the elephantsandbees.com web site.  There's also instructions on how to build the Kenya style elephant proof hive.
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