230327 to bee or not to beeIt’s no secret that elephants are smart and negotiating with them is as much an art as a science. Careful planning and strategy are needed.

When elephants raid farms they risk the spears of angry farmers, and we use several tactics to avoid this. To start, our mobile ranger units patrol high-risk areas at high-risk times, using their vehicles to intercept elephants and direct them away from farms. At night rangers will use strobes lights and thunder flashes (firecrackers) to startle elephants back to safety.

In the areas with the highest rates of conflict, we erected a physical barrier: 100 km of solar-powered electric fencing. The design features short (3 ft) posts with long, angled outrigger wires, intended to stop elephants from climbing over or pushing through. However, the smarter bull elephants have learned how to get through, going so far as to dig up and break the buried ground wire, thereby rendering the fence ineffective.

Although these ‘fence-breaks’ are frustrating, the fence is still extremely effective and conflict has dropped by 90% along that line, saving farmer’s crops and elephant’s lives. Keeping this fence operational is a full-time job, and one we’re happy to do with your support.

There are other ways of negotiating with elephants. Their trunks and eyes are sensitive, and we’ve been testing an experimental fence made of rags infused with chili oil, that deters elephants but is not harmful. The process is time-intensive and the potency wears off quickly, but it’s an interesting alternative in the right circumstances.

Elephants also hate bees, and beehive fences have shown promising results in other parts of Africa. They are best used on smaller individual farms and are unfortunately impractical at the scale needed in our case. It would be impossible to maintain a single unbroken beehive fence (complete with occupied hives) along the 100+ km that we manage, and we know from experience how quick elephants are to exploit weaknesses.

We also know that there is no silver bullet for solving human-elephant conflict. Elephants are smart and always learning, and we try our best to do the same.

230327 to bee or not to bee fence

Photos: Jeremy Goss