This week at STEP construction materials has begun to arrive in abundance. Boxes line the stairs to the office (with donor’s names painted on the side as a thank you), wires are coiled in corners, and wooden poles sit in the grass, waiting to be transported to Rungwa village (a lengthy 621km from here) where they’ll be constructed into beehive fences. These beehive fences are STEPs solution to maintaining a healthy human and elephant co-existence that stems from the following simple fact: elephants are afraid of bees.
Elephant and human co-existence have been threatened over the years as elephants have begun to stray from National Parks and Game Reserves and wander into neighbouring villages. Here they trespass on farmer’s land and, in a bid to compete for resources, devour farmer’s crops, destroy crop houses to get to maize stored inside and even drink from the village’s only water source rendering the villagers helpless and angry. This anger has, in cases, turned to violence and elephants have been speared and killed as a result.
Here at STEP, we’re aiming to work with the community and elephants to prevent such ritual killings and crop destruction by buffering crop losses and generating local income. How do you ask? Through Beehive fences.
The logic, therefore, is that if a beehive fence is built surrounding or near to a farmer’s land, an approaching elephant will push the wire which in turn knocks the beehive and disturbs the bees. This will create a swarm like an attack as the bees leave the hive and head for the elephant, whom, afraid of bees will retreat and hopefully never return (a sort of reverse Pavlov’s dog if you will).
How does this generate income? The bees have two purposes, the primary is to scare off elephants, and the secondary (a somewhat knock on effect) is the production of honey. This honey is collected by the farmers and sold to a honey tradesman at a higher price due to its USP of supporting elephant conservation. Last year STEP hired a honey expert from the Tanzania Honey Council to train local farmers on how to maintain, and extract honey from a hive. This knowledge is vital to the farmers and adds to their skill sets.
While Rungwa village and Rungwa Muhesi Kisigo Game Reserve is STEP’s current project the team have previously been implementing beehive strategies (and continue to do so) in and around Udzungwa National Park, Morogoro National Park and The Selous Game Reserve.