Wild Tracks

On behalf of the world's wild species

Tag Archives: Elephants

Elephants Bee-ware

Now here is a unique conservation idea – working with nature, instead of against it.

It seems that in spite of the fact they are the biggest animals on the continent, African elephants don’t like bees. They go out of their way to avoid them.

Despite their thick hides, adult elephants can be stung around their eyes or up their trunks, while calves who have not developed this thick skin could potentially be killed by a swarm of stinging bees.

Now some clever scientists from Oxford University have come up with a natural way to keep crop-raiding elephants away from human settlements. They made a fence out of beehives.

Close up of the beehive fence which can withstand crop raids by elephants. (Credit: Copyright Oxford University/Lucy King)

Close up of the beehive fence which can withstand crop raids by elephants. (Credit: Copyright Oxford University/Lucy King)

The fence is constructed of log beehives suspended on poles beneath tiny thatched roofs to keep off the sun. The hives are connected by eight metre lengths of fencing wire. Elephants avoid the hives and will attempt to push through the wire but this causes the hives to swing violently causing the elephants to fear an attack of angry bees.

Results of their pilot study in Kenya show that a farm protected by the beehive fence had 86%  fewer crop raids by elephants, and 150% fewer raiding elephants than a control farm without the fence.

The reduction occurred even though none of the hives were occupied, indicating the elephants remember painful past encounters with African honeybees, and avoid any suggestion of them

The beehive fence survives elephant raids, and is cheap enough for the farmers to construct themselves. The reaction from local farmers has been very positive. An additional benefit to the beehive fence is that it affords protection from cattle rustlers.

Once the hives are occupied by native honeybees, the farmers will also get two or three honey harvests a year that they can sell for additional income.

Small farmers in Africa can suffer devastating losses from crop raiding elephants. Animals who are identified as repeat offenders are often shot, so both sides lose.

Now with some clever thought from dedicated scientists, the famers, the elephants, and the honeybees will all benefit. No guns – no poison – no traps. Just a gentle nudge from nature.

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Pygmy Eles

Bornean Pygmy Elephants

Bornean Pygmy Elephants

When you think of elephants, I’ll bet you think of large grey beasts strolling across the African savannah.  Did you know there are also smaller, rounder elephants foraging their way through heavy rainforests?

Asian (Indian) elephants Elphas maximus are found in India, Sri Lanka, Nepal, Indochina and south east Asia.  They are smaller than their African cousins, have a more arched back, and only the males have tusks.  Plus their ears are shaped like the Indian continent, whereas the larger ears of the African elephant are shaped like Africa. Really – check it out next time you’re at a zoo with both elephant species!

But elephants get even smaller. In 2003, Borneo’s pygmy elephants were declared a new subspecies of the Asian elephant. Pygmy elephants are smaller, chubbier and more gentle than other Asian elephants. They  are found only on the northeast tip of Borneo, in the Malaysian state of Sabah. Very little is known of these animals, including how many survive. In August 2007, their population was estimated to be less than 1,000.

The same satellite system used by the U.S. military helped the World Wildlife Fund shed light on their little-known world. Five elephants were collared by WWF and the Sabah, Malaysia, Wildlife Department, with support from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Among the findings from the study:

  • The elephants’ movements are noticeably affected by human activity. Elephants living in areas with the most human disturbance, such as logging and commercial agriculture, spend more time on the move than elephants in more remote areas. One of the collared elephants living near human activity, dubbed Bod Tai, covered a third more ground than did Nancy, who lives in more remote jungle.
  • Most of the elephants spend at least some of their time in palm oil plantations or near human habitation, which leads to conflict with people. In recent years, much of the elephants’ habitat has been converted to tree plantations that produce palm oil, the leading export crop for Malaysia. Each elephant belongs to a herd of 30-50 elephants but often splits off into smaller groups for days or weeks at a time. The home ranges of Nancy and Taliwas, who were collared in nearby forests, overlap, suggesting that the two elephant groups be related. Since elephants live in matriarchal societies, WWF collared only adult female elephants so that each elephant collared represents a whole herd’s movements.
  • The elephants’ diet consists of at least 162 species of plants (in 49 families), including several dipterocarp tree species. This was determined during field tracking that supplements the satellite tracking. It was proved that forest quality influences the diversity and distribution of elephant food in the forest, with encroachment into palm oil plantations being higher along the degraded forest-plantation areas.

Elephants, pygmy or huge, are keystone species in their ecosystems. They are habitat engineers who shape the forest or savannah, impacting all other species who share it, including humans. Let us hope those same humans have the will and desire to save these gentle giants.