A sting operation to save the elephants, without stings
“The human-elephant conflict fuels the problem of recruitment of local people into poaching gangs,” said Francesca Mahoney, founder and director of Wild Survivors, an England-based nonprofit that developed the BuzzBox.
Bees are an increasingly popular way to try to appease this conflict.
San rock art in KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa, suggests an ancient human awareness of elephants’ fear of bees, Dr King said. This knowledge was first translated into Western scientific observation in 2002, when Maasai honey hunters in Kenya told researchers that elephants never damage trees containing beehives.
Dr. King has been studying elephants’ fear of bees since 2006 and applied what she learned to create specialized metal fences from which beehives hang like pendulums. When elephants disturb the fence, beehives sway and bees swarm. A study conducted by Dr King in 2017 found that beehive fences had an 80% success rate in keeping elephants away from farms. “Finding a natural threat to scare elephants in the most holistic way possible, without terrifying them or causing them pain, is really useful for management,” she said.
In some cases, however, hives full of aggressive African bees are not ideal. “You really don’t want to put live bees in places like schoolyards or around water tanks in the middle of a community,” Dr. King said.
The BuzzBox provides the sound of bees without the accompanying stingers. First developed in 2017 by Wild Survivors president Martyn Griffiths, the latest model costs just $100 and is simple enough to build for local schoolchildren. The solar-powered boxes detect moving objects, triggering audio playback for 30 seconds at a time. Devices can be programmed with up to six tracks of various sounds in addition to bees that elephants don’t like, including barking dogs, chainsaws, human voices, gunshots or squeals. goats. The latest version also contains two high-frequency strobe lights, Ms Mahoney said, “so it’s a bit of a disco for elephants doing nighttime raids.”
Dr King stressed that bees and BuzzBoxes would not solve the problem of shrinking wilderness in Africa, and were instead just two tools in “a whole toolbox of human-elephant coexistence”.
But she hopes Liberia’s example will inspire other groups working with forest elephants. “These BuzzBoxes not only keep elephants out, but get communities asking questions like ‘Why should we care?’” Dr King said. “The educational opportunity is immense.”
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