In Africa and India, elephants can be huge–literally–agricultural pests. Stomping casually through plantations, plowing over fences and crushing or devouring crops, these nearly unstoppable giants are often shot by farmers not for any ivory-related avarice, but rather out of a desire to protect their livelihood that lives in the form of fruits and vegetables.
A more pacific method of keeping elephants out of agricultural areas that I have seen in southern India is deep and wide trenches surrounding the plantation, which elephants are loath to cross since they are likely to get stuck. Of course, these moats are understandably impossible to replicate everywhere, and biologist Lucy King has been studying the possibility of creating another sort of fence since 2006.
As you can see from the photo above, Dr. King’s idea was to place many beehives in a row around the perimeter of a farm or plantation, since elephants are very vulnerable to bee stings in their trunk and ear regions. The beehives are in boxes hanging from wire every ten meters, with the wire fence interconnecting the hives so that they can swing and release bees when the wire is pushed by a large mammal like an elephant.
The hive fences are not only relatively cheap to construct, but also provide the obvious pollination and honey benefits to the farmers, who, with the help of the Save the Elephants Foundation and particularly the Elephants and Bees Project, can sell “Elephant-friendly Honey” for increased revenue. Although there are no bee fence pilot programs underway in India yet, there are discussions of testing it out there and hopefully they will be successful soon.
You can learn more and donate to the creative conservation project here.