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A big buzz for African elephants

21 May 2007

Zoologist Lucy King (BSc 1999) is finding new ways to help humans and elephants live together in harmony in Kenya. And one of her ideas is to use beehives to keep elephants away from crops.

Zoologist Lucy King (BSc 1999) is finding new ways to help humans and elephants live together in harmony in Kenya. And one of her ideas is to use beehives to keep elephants away from crops.

As the human population grows, elephants are being forced into smaller areas. ‘Six-tonne animals like elephants have a huge requirement for food and water, and naturally migrate across the landscape searching for sustenance,’ explains Lucy. ‘This brings them directly into conflict with people as new villages, roads, schools, fences, bridges and farms are being built over these natural wildlife corridors.’ As a result, many people are now killing or poisoning elephants who come onto their land to eat the crops. Researchers like Lucy are trying to help local governments find practical and affordable solutions to this conflict.

Lucy’s team, headed by elephant expert Dr Iain Douglas-Hamilton, is interested in finding crop protection methods that can be financed and managed by the farmers themselves. As part of her DPhil (Phd) research at Oxford University, Lucy is exploring the use of traditional wooden beehives ‘as both an elephant deterrent as a social and economic boost to poverty-stricken rural communities through the sustainable harvesting of honey’.

Lucy is now working from a green canvas tent in Samburu Reserve to develop her idea. ‘At the moment I'm setting up beehives in acacia trees and recording how elephants react to them,’ she explains. ‘In the future I hope to try using beehives as an eco-barrier around fields of crops.’