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Plan ‘Bee’ : Beehive Fences !

Plan ‘Bee’ : Beehive Fences !

By Rupam Debnath (Student, UG-3rd Year, Barrackpore Rastraguru Surendranath College)

Introduction

Honeybees (species of the subgenus Apis) are social insects that live in colonies. The hive population consists of a single queen, a few hundred drones, and thousands of worker bees. They are flying insects, & close relatives of wasps & ants. They are found on every continent on earth, except for Antarctica. Beehive has many economical values as well as ecological values. But now it is noticed that it can be used as a fence tool in agricultural fields. Nowadays one of the most effective strategies used to prevent elephant crop raiding behavior is to enclose farms with “beehive fences”. A beehive fence is a conflict mitigation tool for farmers coexisting with elephants. This method was developed by Dr. Lucy E. King, who observed that elephants naturally avoid bees-imagine the risk of bees flying around inside an elephant’s trunk!

History

Small-scale subsistence farmers live in constant fear that elephants wandering outside the farm boundary will raid their crops. Elephant crop raiding events can result in heavy losses for local farmers, and cause people to feel enormous animosity toward these animals which are perceived as a threat to their livelihoods. So it was compulsory to create or find a tool or technique that can mitigate the conflict & the elephant raids. Then a research work was conducted by Dr. Lucy’s team in Kenya, Africa. Tried and tested methods include construction of passive (immovable) barriers, such as flashing solar lights, fences strung with chili-oil soaked rags, ditches, watch towers, walls, buffer crops(e.g., chilies), and active(moveable) deterrents such as fire or firecrackers, chili powder bombs, guard dogs, and human patrols. But their rate of success was very low. Playback methods conducted with known elephants in Samburu and Buffalo Springs National Reserves in Kenya have revealed that elephants will run from the sound of disturbed honey bees. Then, at last, the natural tool-‘beehive fence’ was introduced by the team to the farmers & the trials were done for 2 years. With assistance from The Elephants and Bees Project, rural farmers are using this knowledge to protect their fields from crop-raiding elephants. This research has involved monitoring the effect of the beehive fences on deterring crop-raiding elephants as well as understanding how farmers adapt to the new technology. To date, the beehive fences have been extremely successful in stopping elephants from breaking through to enter the farms.

Why Elephants Avoid Bees ?

Elephants run from the sound of disturbed honey bees. When they do run away, the elephants also emit a unique low frequency “bee alarm rumble” vocalization which warns neighboring elephants to retreat as well. These behavioral discoveries have revealed that elephants appear to retain a negative memory about honey bees which ‘scares’ them away from an area. Local people, who have witnessed elephants being stung by swarms of bees, tell that elephants can be stung around the eyes, up the trunk and behind the thinner skin of the ears which must be painful enough to make them wary of future encounters with the insects.

Methodology

Beehive fences erected to stop elephants from entering individual farms can be made with any type of beehive. There are three main types of a modern hive in common use worldwide:

  • The Langstroth Hive
  • The Top-bar Hive
  • The ware Hive

Besides them, there is also Traditional Log Hives, Kenyan Top Bar Hives (KTBH). Any type of hives can be used to make the beehive fence. The traditional log hive is the cheapest way.

Beehive fences using Traditional Log Hives [Fig.1]

1. The bee hut posts are spaced 6m. apart allowing the hives to be spaced 8m. apart.

2. The beehives should be able to swing freely, suspended only by tightly secured fencing wire to the top of the posts.

3.Each hive should be linked to each other with strong, taut, fencing wire that hooks to the center of the permanent wire of each hive and must be, crucially, behind the upright posts on the crop side of the fence.

An intruding elephant trying to enter the field will avoid the complex solid structure of the bee huts and will be channeled between them. As the elephant tries to push through the thigh-high wire it causes the attached beehives to swing violently, thereby disturbing and releasing the bees to irritate or sting the elephant.


Fig:1- Beehive Fence using Traditional Log Hives (Diagram adapted from, King, L.E. (2014) Beehive Fence Construction Manual)

Beehive fences using Kenyan Top Bar Hives (KTBH) [Fig.2]

1. This beehive fence is comprised of two elements, the ‘bee hut’ and the connecting wire linking one beehive to the next with a gap of 7m between the post of one bee hut and the next.

2. The bee hut houses an 80cm long Kenyan Top Bar Hive constructed out of 9mm plywood and designed so that three beehives can be made from one large 2.4 x 1.8m industrial plywood sheet.

3. The rain-proof roof is made from a corrugated iron sheet and is protected from the sun by a flat thatched roof.

4. The roof is hung by thin binding wire, too thin for honey badgers to crawl down should they succeed in bridging the protective 70cm iron sheets nailed to the posts.

5. The 9 foot posts must be coated in a cheap oil-based insecticide to prevent termites.

6. The hive is hung by drilling small holes in the side walls of the hive and feeding through a stronger plain wire. This is looped easily around the top of the upright posts and once through the hive the ends can be secured to the roof by drilling a small nail size hole.

7. A simple twist of the hive’s hanging wire on the farm side of the bee hut enables a strong piece of plain wire to attach one beehive to the next beehive 10 meters away.

When an elephant attempt to enter the farm he will instinctively try to pass between the bee huts and as the wire stretches the pressure on the beehives will cause them to swing erratically and, if occupied, release the bees. The wire is only looped through the hoop, not twisted tightly back onto itself, so that excessive pressure from an elephant will release the wire rather than pulling down the hive.


Fig.2- Beehive fence using Kenyan Top Bar Hives (Diagram adapted from, King, L.E. (2014) Beehive Fence Construction Manual)

Beehive fences using Langstroth Hive [Fig.3]

1. Langstroth beehives are made of rectangular or square boxes that fit snuggly one on top of the other.

2. The larger brood chamber on the bottom contains a set of frames usually containing a thin foundation strip of beeswax that is held in place with fine strips of wire.

3. Once the bees have occupied the brood chamber and built up the foundation combs with beeswax and brood, a second ‘super’ box should be placed on top.

4. In between the two boxes lies a queen excluder wire mesh that lies as a horizontal sheet over the top of the brood chamber combs. This prevents the queen from traveling up into the super box which allows the worker bees to fill the super with a pure wax comb and honey stores. This is the section that you harvest for honey leaving the brood chamber alone.

5. The posts between each bee hut should be 7m apart. The second post for hanging the beehive should be 3m apart.

6. The wooden posts should ideally be 8 or 9 foot long and need to be treated with an insecticide from top to bottom and left to dry thoroughly before embedding into the ground.

7. The iron sheet roof will keep the bees dry in the rain but if left in the sun the hive will overheat and the bees will become aggressive and leave.

8. Each beehive in the fence should be linked to each other with a strong piece of plain wire which should loop through the wire hanging the beehive and, crucially, must be on the inside of the farm so the beehives will swing should an elephant try to enter the farm.


Fig.3- Beehive fence using Langstroth Hive

Did You Know

  • In Greek mythology, Apollo is credited as being the first beekeeper.
  • Ounce for ounce, honey bee venom is more deadly than cobra venom. Don’t worry, though – it takes 19 stings for every kilogram of a person’s body weight to be lethal.
  • Honey bees have 170 odorant receptors, and have a sense of smell 50 times more powerful than a dog.
  • Every bee colony has its own distinct scent so that members can identify each other.
  • A hive is perennial, meaning that it becomes inactive in the winter but “awakens” again in the spring. When individuals die, they are quickly replace – workers every 6-8 weeks, and the queen every 2-3 years. Because of this, a hive could technically be immortal!
  • Bees have long, straw-like tongues called a proboscis which they use to suck liquid nectar out of flowers.
  • Bees have 5 eyes – 3 simple eyes, and 2 compound eyes.
  • Honey has antibacterial properties and can be used as a dressing for wounds.
  • Bees create wax in a special gland on their stomach, which they then chew to form honeycomb.

Application

After its massive success rate in Africa, The experiment was later repeated by other researchers in Tanzania. Then the project is also initiated in India. Nearly 400 people are killed in India every year while protecting their crops from elephants. The Agricultural Technology Management Agency (ATMA, Wayanad), in association with the State Forest and Wildlife Department, NABARD and Khadi and Village Industries Board, was launched an innovative project that envisaged setting up beehive fencing to keep raiding elephants at bay. ATMA set up a 700-metre bee fence at Mathamangalam, a small village in Poothadi grama panchayat, in December 2012 as a pilot project. It failed in part because they did not first get sufficient support from local people.

Then in January 2016 another project was started at Mayilattumpara by a local farmers’ group with the sup- port of the federal government’s Agriculture Technology Management Agency or ATMA, cost Rs 5,00,000. Two years ago, no one in Mayilattumpara could sleep soundly at night. Residents of the village in the foot- hills of Thrissur district, in southwest India’s Kerala state, feared invasions by wild elephants. But the situation has turned around in the past year. A wire fence strung with beehives now stretches 2.5 km (1.5 miles) along the border of 18 village farms. The hives, hanging every 10 meters along the wire, are populated with Italian honey bees bred in Kerala. Elephants, it turns out, are frightened of loudly buzzing bees and their ferocious stings. When elephants try to pass the wire fence, angry bees swarm out and the elephants quickly flee. Protected by the bees, farmers can tend their crops again. And some are also beginning to cultivate a new harvest honey. [Fig.4] But today the effort is beginning to pay off. Each December to March honey season, each of the 260 beehives strung along the fence could produce as much as 30 kg of honey. This has the potential to bring in up to Rs 65,000 for each farmer, allowing for a substantial profit even after the costs of maintaining the hives.


Fig.4- Elephant friendly Honey

Why Not In West Bengal ?!

Human–wildlife conflict remains one of the greatest unresolved challenges for conservation. People in communities affected by wildlife can have extremely negative attitudes toward those species and may retaliate by killing wildlife, aiding poachers. Man-elephant conflict is also seen in West Bengal, especially in Bankura, Purulia & West Midnapore. Conflicts usually arise out of straying of wild animals into human habitations and result into either killing of the wild animals or death or injury of human beings & loss of crop or houses. It increases the retaliatory killing of elephants. A rapid expansion of human habitations, agriculture have not only encouraged upon forests & grasslands but also cut off the corridors needed for migration of wide-ranging animals like elephants. So, due to the raids of wild elephants, the farmers set many fences for the elephants. They use electrocution as a fence. Because of this many elephants die every year.


Fig-5 : Man-elephant conflict zones in South-West Bengal (Source-GIS Cell, Wildlife Wing)


Fig.6 : Man-elephant conflict areas in Purulia, Bankura, West Midnapore

If we compare the death of wild elephants in West Bengal during 2008-2012 & 2013-2017 by retaliatory killing (especially by electrocution), we can see that the number is increasing day by day. The comparing tables & charts are given below:
Table-1 : Death of wild elephants during 2008-2012 in West Bengal

YearNatural DeathRetaliatory KillingAccident / othersTotal
2008-093014
2009-104026
2010-112169
2011-122024

Table-2 : Death of wild elephants during 2013-2017 in West Bengal

YearNatural DeathRetaliatory KillingAccident / othersTotal
2013-143062157
2014-15229837
2015-1622141046
2016-173451453

So, from the above data, it is clearer now that the introduction of beehive fence technique should be done as soon as possible in West Bengal to not only save the elephants but also to save the human lives & their crop, houses. In this way, the conflict between human & elephants should be mitigated. As the success rate of a beehive fence is very high, the introduction of this technique should start as a pilot project.

Conclusion

Not only to mitigate the conflict between human & elephants, beehive fences have also protected the crops & human lives. It is a cheaper & natural technique. So anyone can try this technique. Not only as a fence, the farmers can get a huge amount of honey by harvesting it from the beehives. It has the potential to bring in up to Rs 65,000 for each farmer, allowing for a substantial profit even after the costs of maintaining the hives. So it is also beneficial for the farmers. All we need to introduce this technique with some pilot projects & with the association of the forest & agricultural departments of govt. to save the elephants & to mitigate the human-elephant conflict by accepting the ‘elephants and bees project’.

Did You Know

  • Honey bees have been producing honey in the same way for 150 million years.
  • The natural fruit sugars in honey – fructose and glucose are quickly digested by the body. This is why sportsmen and athletes use honey to give them a natural energy boost.
  • Honey has antiseptic properties and was historically used as a dressing for wounds and a first aid treatment for burns and cuts.
  • Honey has always been highly regarded as a medicine. It is thought to help with everything from sore throats and digestive disorders to skin problems and hay fever.
  • The practice of beekeeping dates back at least 4,500 years.

References

1. Lucy E. King, Fredrick Lala, Hesron Nzumu, Emmanuel Mwambingu, and Iain Douglas Hamilton – Beehive
fences as a multidimensional conflict-mitigation tool for farmers coexisting with elephants, Conservation Biology 00:1-10

2. Dr Lucy E. King (2014) – Beehive Fence Construction Manual, Third edition

3. Subhamay Chanda – Man-Elephant conflict in South West Bengal

4. Kalyan Das – Man-Elephant conflict in North Bengal

5. M. Roy, R. Sukumar – Elephant corridors in northern West Bengal

6. Wildlife Wing Annual Reports – Directorate of Forest, Govt. of West Bengal

7. Elephants and Bees Project – http://elephantsandbees.com/

8. Save the Elephants – https://www.savetheelephants.org/

9. Scroll – https://scroll.in/

10. Wikipedia – https://www.wikipedia.org/