PICS: Bees stop elephants from trampling trees in SA

2017-12-27 12:51
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(Photo: Supplied/ Mike Kendrick)

Hoedspruit — The humble bee is helping to keep elephants from destroying trees and wiping out crops in their quest for food.

A project launched near South Africa's Kruger National Park in 2015 has found success. Hanging beehives containing African honeybees from the branches of marula trees are highly effective at protecting these trees from elephant impact, a new study has confirmed.

Research, conducted by South African based Elephants Alive and the University of the Witwatersrand in Johannesburg, in partnership with the Elephants and Bees Project of Save the Elephants in Kenya, has discovered that African elephants appear to avoid impacting marula trees containing beehives with African honeybees.

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According to Save the Elephants, conservation managers in fenced-off protected areas are concerned about the impact that expanding African elephant numbers have on the survival rate of large tree species.

"Wire-netting has proven to be successful at increasing trees’ survival rates by preventing elephants from ring-barking these trees. However, wire-netted trees are still vulnerable to other types of elephant impact. This requires researchers to investigate new methods which may be effective at completely deterring elephants from particular large trees," says the organisation.

"A new study shows that hanging a combination of both active and dummy (inactive) beehives from the branches of marula trees creates a formidable mitigation method for protecting this keystone species from elephant impact," it adds.

(Photo: Supplied/ Mike Kendrick)

An elephant's skin is thick but sensitive. The animals will try to avoid a bee sting whenever possible, experts say.

"They're terrified of it coming up the trunk and then they could potentially suffocate," says Jess Wilmot, field researcher with the organisation Elephants Alive.

(Photo: Supplied/ Mike Kendrick)

Project founder Michelle Henley says beehives have proven to be "significantly effective" at protecting indigenous trees from being trampled. 

“This innovative study demonstrates that there are peaceful means with which we can foster the important ecological linkages between elephants, trees and bees. The bees not only protect the large trees from severe impact but as pollinators they also ensure valuable seed banks for the surrounding landscapes,” says Henley. 

Beekeeper Mark Collins says "It's amazing how a creature so small can actually scare away an elephant."

Now the project is upgrading the beehives and using them to explore commercial honey production.

(Photo: Supplied/ Mike Kendrick)

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