Beehive Fences Help African Elephants and Farmers Not Hate Each Other

african bee fences photo

Member of the construction team with the beehive fence built for the pilot study. Photo via OU/Lucy King

Furadan is a powerful poison. A quarter of a teaspoon can kill a human. African farmers and ranchers are using it to kill lions and elephants that threaten their crops and herds. Luckily, it is under review to be banned in Kenya, but that won't do much to stop people from using it. Even organizations trying out buy-back programs with ranchers are seeing little success. What might turn them around, however, are ideas for using effective natural fencing. One idea being tested out with success is a fence made of beehives. How the Bee Fence Works
The University of Oxford reports that a fence made of beehives strung together by wires has been shown to be effective against elephants that have become a nuisance by raiding farmers' crops.

When an elephant pushes against the wires to get through to the crops, the hives swing violently, which sparks a fear in the elephant of a possible bee attack. The results of the pilot test are amazing, showing 86% fewer successful crop raids by elephants, and 150 fewer elephants even attempting a raid as compared to other farms in the control group.

Instead of using poison or guns, the idea uses natural instincts among animals to keep them out of human areas. The conflicts between humans and wildlife can be successfully reduced without anyone coming to harm.

Are Farmers Safe With Bees Around?
You might be questioning the safety of the farmers - what if they or their children find themselves at the fence and the object of attack of the bees? Here's the most clever part. The hives in the pilot program weren't even occupied by bees!

The elephants have been known to be scared off by even just the recorded sound of buzzing bees. So the familiar sight and smell of hives, and the knowledge that a swinging hive might mean an eminent attack, was enough to keep the elephants at bay and everyone safe from bees.

'The reaction from the farmers involved in our pilot study has been very positive,' said Lucy King. 'Our beehive fence design has been shown to be robust enough to survive elephant raids and cheap enough for farmers to construct themselves - especially as it also gives protection against cattle rustlers and, when occupied by colonies of African honeybees, will give the farmers two or three honey harvests a year that they can sell to offset the cost of building the fence.'

Fences Aren't Always Good News for Wildlife
This particular experiment looks to be a great solution for fencing. But fences aren't always ideal for animals, especially if they're planned with only human interests in mind. A fence that's gotten coverage on TreeHugger is fencing the border between the US and Mexico. With only humans as the focus, the plan left much to be desired when it came to the ecological impact on animals.

border fence problem photo

Photo via Sierra Club

However, many fences are built with animal preservation in mind. Ideas are being floated now for a giant fence that could help save the Tasmanian Devil, which faces extinction within 20 years thanks to devastating disease. However, the significant problems with the idea are not lost on those considering it as a solution.

Animals get caught in fences, their migration patterns are interrupted, and their habitat divided. That's why creativity and selective use of fences is vital to ensuring that the fences do only what they're intended to do, and no additional harm.

Despite the dangers of a fence and the precautions needed to be taken when designing it, natural fence concepts like the beehive fence are a better way to go than poisoning or shooting invasive animals, helping to peacefully reduce human-animal conflicts. And well-designed fences can end up helping animals, rather than harming them.

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