Bee Fencing Project
Reducing human-elephant conflict and building sustainable livelihoods for local communities.
The Challenge: Human-Elephant Conflict
Rapid population growth in Asia has pushed Asian elephants (Elephas maximus) to only 5% of the area in which they historically grazed (King 2018; Fernando et al. 2005). Over the last 100 years, the Asian elephant population has decreased by 90% and the remaining 30,000 must share their range with 20% of the global human population (King 2018; BMA 2009). With about 400,000 individuals remaining, African bush and forest elephants (Loxodonta africana and L. cyclotis, respectively) are faring better than their Asian cousins, but are declining at an alarming rate across most of Africa, primarily due to poaching for their tusks, but also from habitat loss.
This overlap between elephant and human territory in both Asia and Africa has led to deadly conflict (Fernando et al. 2005; Pradhan et al. 2008). Elephants raid crops and break into buildings to access grain stores, leading to loss of property and death of humans and elephants (BMA 2009). Methods such as fences, wooden fences, thorn barriers, loud noises, shouting, threating with fire, spices, and gunshots have been used in an attempt to deter these animals (Osborn & Parker 2003; BMA 2009). However, they are often difficult to sustain long-term due to limited resources (Osborn & Parker 2003; BMA 2009).
The Solution: Bees for Elephants
In response to this challenge, Butterfly Pavilion launched the Bee Fencing Project in 2018, collaborating with the Katie Adamson Conservation Fund (KACF), Denver Zoo, Peace for Conservation, and the Health and Environmental Management Society (HEMS) in Nepal, with a goal to sustainably protect both humans and elephants.
A method established by Dr. Lucy King through the Save the Bees Project, bee fencing involves suspending bee hives from posts connected with a trip wire, which surround an area humans wish to protect, such as farmland. These hives are placed 10 meters apart, and when an elephant approaches the area and encounters the trip wire, it will disturb the hive and guard bees will fly out and sting the elephant (King et al. 2011). Over time, elephants expect that they will be stung and avoid bee-fenced areas (King et al. 2009).
Bee fences are affordable, can be managed by farmers themselves, involve locally-available materials and can be adapted to local conditions (Hoare & Sitati 2018). In addition, the bees also pollinate plants in the local area, contributing to a thriving ecosystem, and provide products (honey, wax, and pollen) for sale or local consumption (King 2015). Maintaining hives thus represents an opportunity for local livelihood enhancement.
Notes from the Field in Nepal
Bardia National Park is home to a diverse array of plants, mammals, reptiles and amphibians, insects, and fishes, including many endangered species like the Bengal tiger (Panthera tigris tigris), Indian rhinoceros (Rhinoceros unicornis), Indian leopard (Panthera pardus fusca), gharial (Gavialis gangeticus), mugger crocodiles (Crocodylus palustris), swamp deer (Cervus duvaucelii), black buck (Antilope cervicapra), and Asian elephant (Elephas maximus).
In addition, Bardia National Park has the largest population of elephants in western Nepal and has experienced the results of human-elephant conflict. From 2004 – 2008, 10 people died, 33 were injured, 900 houses were damaged, along with two elephants killed (Pradhan et al. 2008).
Butterfly Pavilion traveled to a community just outside of Nepalgunj, Nepal, adjacent to Bardia National Park in September of 2018. Butterfly Pavilion experts trained community members in proper beekeeping techniques, including installation, feeding, queen identification, adding room for growing hives, protective equipment, smoking the hive, disease/parasite identification and management, frame construction, bee anatomy, bee behavior, bee physiology, honey extraction and overwintering.
Young people from around the community attended the training sessions and were eager to learn about beekeeping and how bees mitigate elephant raids. Butterfly Pavilion also gave hands on experience to the community members, mainly young students, by inspecting the 10 installed hives, pointing out proper care, feeding, and behavior.
Butterfly Pavilion hopes to continue our work in Bardia and other sites throughout Nepal. Also, in 2019, Butterfly Pavilion will expand our Bee Fencing Project to Tanzania.
- BMA, O.P., 2009. The Human-Elephant Conflict: A Review of Current Status and Mitigation Methods. Gajaha, (30), pp.41–52.
- Fernando, P. et al., 2005. Perceptions and patterns of human-elephant conflict in old and new settlements in Sri Lanka: Insights for mitigation and management. Biodiversity and Conservation, 14(10), pp.2465–2481.
- Hoare, R. & Sitati, N., 2018. Human-Elephant Conflict Working Group. Available at: https://www.iucn.org/ssc-groups/mammals/african-elephant-specialist-group/human-elephant-conflict/hec-working-group.
- King, L.E. et al., 2009. Beehive fence deters crop-raiding elephants. African Journal of Ecology, 47(2), pp.131–137.
- King, L.E., 2018. Human-Elephant Conflict in Asia. Save the Elephants. Available at: http://elephantsandbees.com/human-elephant-conflict-asia/.
- King, L.E., 2015. Using honey bees to save elephants. Biological Sciences Review, (September), pp.16–19.
- King, L.E., Douglas-hamilton, I. & Vollrath, F., 2011. Beehive fences as effective deterrents for crop-raiding elephants field trials in northern Kenya. African journal of Ecology, 49(4), pp.431–439.
- Osborn, F. V & Parker, G.E., 2003. Towards an integrated approach for reducing the conflict between elephants and people: a review of current research. Oryx, 37(1), pp.1–5.
- Pradhan, N.M.B., Williams, A.C. & Dhakal, M., 2008. Current Status of Asian Elephants in Nepal. , (January), pp.1–6. Available at: papers2://publication/uuid/28184549-15F1-4214-A472-A8D48B0F9FC9.