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How Bees are Helping to Improve Human-Elephant Relationships

In recent years bees have been receiving more and more attention as the loss of pollinators becomes a more pressing concern around the globe. We know that the small but mighty bee is one of the best pollinators around, helping to produce up to 30% of the foods we eat, but it may surprise you to hear that these little guys are key players in helping to protect the world’s largest land mammal – elephants!

Elephants are expert foragers, and because of their large size, they need to eat A LOT of food every single day. As human development continues to spread, the land that elephants use to browse for food often merges with agricultural areas created by farmers. Unfortunately, when elephants stumble onto these crop fields they see the crops as an easy meal, and can cause a great deal of damage to the fields. The damage and loss of crops is a huge blow to farmers’ livelihoods, and as one would expect, this makes farmers very angry. This is where problems arise. To protect their land, farmers will take extreme measures to remove elephants from the area – while the methods may vary, this type of conflict can be very dangerous, and sometimes deadly for both elephants and people. So, how do we protect farmland and protect elephants so people and wildlife can live peacefully with one another? BEES!

Researchers in Kenya working with Save the Elephants were out in the field one day when they noticed that when elephants were around trees with large hives of bees, they would quickly move away. After years of testing and studying these interactions, it was discovered that just the sound of a buzzing beehive will keep elephants far away from an area. At this point researchers had a clever idea – by putting up a rope fence and hanging wooden boxes for beehives across them, farmers could successfully keep elephants away from their crops. Better yet, farmers could also collect the honey produced by the bees and use it for both food and as an extra source of income! A simple and genius solution that is a win-win for both humans and elephants.

Here at the Houston Zoo we help to support the Niassa Beehive Fence Project. Run by the Niassa Lion Project, their programs aim to show communities humane and positive ways to stop human-wildlife conflict. Each time you visit the zoo, you are helping to support projects like this one! We also have a model of one of these fences at the McNair Asian Elephant Habitat here at the zoo – check it out on your next visit! Just like the bees, our individual actions may seem small, but together we can make a mighty big impact – to learn more about what you can do to help save elephants in the wild, click here!