IF you don’t want elephants in-vading your backyard vegetable patch, get a beehive.
University of Oxford re-searchers say they have found Asian elephants in Sri Lanka are as scared of honey bees as their African counterparts.
Playbacks have been used for many years to explore the behavioural responses of African elephants to a suspected natural threat, but the research, published in the journal Current Biology, is the first time the technique has been used to record how Asian elephants react to the sound of bees.
Study leader Lucy King, a research associate with the Oxford University Department of Zoology and head of the Human-Elephant Co-Existence Programme for Save the Elephants, showed that Asian elephants responded with alarm to the bee simulations.
They also retreated significantly further away and vocalised more in response to the bee sounds compared to controls.
Working with elephant scientists from Cornell University, Save the Elephants, Trunks and Leaves, Disney’s Animal Kingdom and University of Peradeniya, the team now hopes that beehive deterrents, used successfully to ward off African elephants from rural farm lands, can be applied to prevent Asian elephant populations from raiding crops.
“Asia has even higher levels of human-elephant conflict than Africa does, and Asian elephants are approximately 10 times more endangered than African elephants,” King says.
“If we could help apply the results from this research to develop effective community-based beehive fence deterrent systems for rural Asian farmers living with elephants, we could have a significant impact on the survival of the Asian elephant species.”
The study was performed in Udawalawe National Park.
A network of 10 trial beehive fence projects are being tested to see if they can reduce human-elephant conflict for rural farms in central Sri Lanka.
The initiative is already harvesting honey from the beehives and four beekeeping workshops have been held to boost beekeeping knowledge and honey processing skills.
Further Asian beehive fence collaborations are being formed with scientists in Thailand, India and Nepal.