Elephants Are Afraid of Bees, A Finding That Could Help African Farmers

Elephants Are Afraid of Bees, A Finding That Could Help African Farmers

Susan Cosier
Published: 06/21/2010

In the expanses of Africa, enormous pachyderms are running away—from bees. Researchers found that elephants flee the scene and may even warn their fellow behemoths when they encounter bees, which may help improve relations between the animals and farmers.

 
Elephants can destroy an entire crop in a single night, prompting farmers to stay up to ward off the herbivores by lighting fires and banging pots and pans. Sometimes, when those tactics aren’t enough, the farmers kill the elephants, which have also trampled people to death.
 
Bees may be a peaceful solution to the problem. These findings, based on two studies that are part of a project by Oxford University and Save the Elephants, were conducted by animal behavior researcher Lucy King. She says the discovery could help farmers prevent elephants from coming onto their lands by setting up beehive fences.
 
"It's impossible to cover Africa in electric fences," King told the LA Times. "The infrastructure doesn't exist in many places and it would restrict animals' movement. This could be a better way to direct elephants away from farmers' crops."
 
King found that the bees were an effective way to ward off the elephants when she played back recordings of the insects. The gray beasts fled, and elephants further away left the area, too. The elephants emitted low-frequency alarm calls impossible for humans to hear, King found. For her second experiment, published in the journal Public Library of Science, she played back the warning calls and the elephants moved away, which validated her prediction.
 
More research is needed, of course, before bees are employed over the African countryside, but the conclusions have generated some buzz, according to the article. Paul Udoto, a spokesman for the Kenya Wildlife Service said, "This sort of initiative is very encouraging in helping prevent human wildlife conflict."