Cape Town - In the high-tech world we live in, high costs and complicated projects are typically at the order of modern problem solution.
But often, the simplest solutions are the best.
Like for example with the new bee fencing project launched in Kenya.
Working together the David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust, zoologist, Dr Lucy King and British Airways are establishing ‘beehive fences’ on five farms along the Mtito Andei River.
The new project uses bee-infested fences to keep elephants off rural farm land.
There is a major problem in the area with elephants invading the rural farmers' fields, and destroying the livelihood of these people. More specifically, the human-elephant conflict causes much harm to both parties.
Given the average elephant’s appetite – they can consume up to 400kg of food a day – this can be devastating to rural subsistence farmers.
Typically the farmers try to keep the elephants off their land by shouting, lighting fires, exploding firecrackers, releasing dogs, hurling stones or chili bombs and banging drums or metal sheeting. If this fails to deter the hungry raiders they may resort to spears or bow and arrows.
These encounters can often result in both people and elephants being killed or injured.
Electric or other fencing to keep elephants away from crops and villages is not always an ideal solution for many reasons, not least of which because it is expensive.
Fences also cut wildlife corridors, result in over-grazing and permanent damage to ecosystems.
Confining elephant herds can cause localised population explosions with potentially devastating consequences for the elephants, other wildlife and the ecosystem.
Bees, on the other hand, are relatively easy to keep, don’t disrupt wildlife migration, provide farmers with a source of income, and - most importantly - elephants dislike them.
Hence - the beehive fences.
Initial talks about the bee fencing began in 2013, with King, who works with Save the Elephants in Kenya, visiting some farmers in the area to see if it would be suitable for the project.
On their own initiative, some Mtito Andei farmers had already started a group to deal with human-wildlife conflict in the area. The group was able to disseminate questionnaires and report back on incidents, enabling the project team to identify where elephants were raiding crops.
The farmers were desperate for a solution and, based on the success of King’s research, very receptive to the idea. As an added bonus, the local Wakamba tribe are avid bee keepers and were enthusiastic about getting modern beehives from which they could earn an income.
So the project was rolled out, with British Airways community investment providing the funding.
The airline, which has supported the David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust for the past decade, donated about R105 000 (£5 000) specifically for the launch of the beehive fence pilot project in Mtito Andei a year ago.
Neville Sheldrick, of the David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust, who has spearheaded the beehive fence project, says it’s too soon to draw any scientific conclusions about its success, particularly as it has not yet been trailed through the wet season when there are large fields of maize to tempt hungry elephants.
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Yet the data King has collected from several years of research indicates that the fences are at least 80% effective, with only two of every ten elephants finding a way through.
“The farmers very much feel the fence is working. When I visit they proudly walk me around showing me the footprints of elephants that have walked up to and along the fence in several locations before turning back towards the Park,” says Sheldrick.
“They certainly seem very happy with it, and we have been approached by neighbours who are eager to also be included in the project.”
He says that although it takes some time for the hives to reach full occupancy, two of the five families involved have already made small honey harvests.
The real proof of the pudding is that previously, most people stopped farming because the elephants wrought so much damage. Now farming is again an option, and one farmer has even started an irrigation project to produce vegetables.
Should the fences prove as effective as those in King’s research then agricultural yield will be higher, once again making farming a viable way for families in the area to make a living.
“This is exactly the sort of project we love to support,” says Mary Barry, British Airways’ head of community investment.
“Long-term partnerships, such as the one with the David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust, allow us to positively respond to opportunities, in this case effecting a simple, clever solution that makes a meaningful difference.”
The Mtito Andei River forms the boundary between local communities and the Tsavo East National Park, which lies in the south east of the country between Nairobi and Mombasa.