Rural Farmers in East AfricaHuman-wildlife conflict can be devastating to individuals and communities living in rural areas. Elephant encroachment has destroyed the livelihoods of many rural farmers in East Africa, forcing them further into poverty and often creating tension with governments and conservation groups. One man living next to the Tsavo West National Park in Eastern Kenya, a popular tourist destination, had his goats snatched by lions and his farm pillaged by elephants, eliminating his ability to earn an income. As he was already impoverished, he could not afford protection other than what proved to be an effective row of thorny acacia trees to deter wildlife. As animals continue to encroach upon people’s land around Tsavo, many feel forced to resort to crime and poaching to earn a living.

That said, more individuals and organizations have become more committed to halting human-wildlife conflict and poaching. Governments wanting to maintain the wildlife tourism industry, conservation groups aiming to protect animals from extinction and poor farmers seeking a reliable and legal wage all share a common goal of eliminating the prevalence of poaching in Africa. In recent years, a potential solution has emerged for rural farmers in East Africa: beehive fences.

An Emerging Solution: Beehive Fences

After consulting with farmers in Kenya who noticed elephants tended to avoid trees that contained beehives, Dr. Lucy King of Save the Elephants conducted a study to determine whether fences lined with beehives could effectively deter elephants. These fences consist of wooden posts equipped with a beehive, as well as a thatched roof to protect the hive from the elements and metal wires running between each post. Dr. King used Langstroth beehives which, though not the most modern beehives, are easy to construct and operate.

The general process by which the fences function is that an elephant will attempt to walk between the two posts, causing it to hit the wires. The subsequent movement of the posts and hives upsets the bees, who will in turn bother the elephant and force it to turn around.

Dr. King found that 80% percent of elephants in her study were deterred from entering farms equipped with beehive fences, representing a clear validation of her theory. However, it should be noted that the fences do not work equally worldwide: the fences appear to work better in East Africa than in Asian countries where the fences were also tested. This discrepancy is likely due to regional variations in elephant and bee species. Studies indicate that African bees are more aggressive than their Asian counterparts, resulting in differing reactions from elephants. Even if the effectiveness of beehive fences is localized, this solution maintains the potential to transform living standards for rural farmers in East Africa.

Taking the Lead: Implementing Beehive Fences

One organization helping to build beehive fences is the Sheldrick Wildlife Trust. This nonprofit organization aspires “to protect Africa’s wildlife and to preserve habitats for the future of all wild species,” and has a vested interest in improving the lives of rural Kenyans. To date, the Trust has built more than two kilometers of fence line including 131 beehives bordering the Tsavo Conservation Area. Farmers receive lessons from a professional beekeeper on how to properly maintain and harvest their hives, enabling them to profit from honey sales. Clearly, in addition to increasing outputs by reducing damages from elephants, the beehive fences themselves provide an income boost because the bees pollinate farmers’ crops.

The Future of Farmer Protection

Beehive fences are not a perfect solution to human-elephant conflict: they require training to maintain, can be evaded by some elephants and are less effective depending on the geographic area. Many believe electric fences would surely be a better elephant deterrent; however, these systems are too expensive and difficult to maintain, especially in rural regions. As such, beehive fences are the best solution currently available to mitigate human-elephant conflict in East Africa. More investment is necessary to establish beehive fence lines across all human-wildlife borders in East Africa in order to guarantee that all farms are protected. By giving farmers greater confidence in their abilities to sell crops at market, beehive fences increase yields and enable rural farmers in East Africa to ultimately escape poverty.

– Jeff Keare
Photo: Flickr

Kony’s Elephant Poaching
Poaching elephants is a practice in which people kill elephants in order to sell their tusks, meat, or hide. Poachers tend to target old matriarchs, or the oldest adult females, which is especially problematic for the elephant herds because the adult females are responsible for holding the herd together. In many cases, the structure of the herd was additionally disrupted as many young elephants died alongside their mothers.

Elephants are also known to grieve much as humans do. They visit the carcasses of their dead mates, families, or herd members and are emotionally affected by the loss. Should African elephants be completely killed off, there would be no way to repopulate, which would irreversibly damage the ecosystems of Africa and the environment as a whole. Such a disruption in the environment could affect the societies living near herds of African elephants, and potentially negatively affect Africa’s population and economy.

Unfortunately, elephant poaching still occurs in Africa as of 2013, and one of the people who have been partaking in the act is the well-publicized Joseph Kony. Kony, along with the Lord’s Resistance Army, or the LRA, has been elephant poaching in order to keep itself going. This is rather surprising, but most of all, it reflects the negative energy of the LRA as a whole. Kony and his army are using one atrocity to help fuel further atrocities. Kony is wanted for international crimes due to his crimes against humanity and children, and his war crimes. The Enough Project, along with the Satellite Sentinel Project, has documented evidence that the LRA has been poaching elephants. Kony has asked his army to give him elephant tusks to sell in order to buy food, weapons, and any other number of supplies.

This poaching has led to the support of Kony and the LRA, which is just one more reason that elephant poaching should be stopped. Throughout this elephant poaching, the LRA has also fought with the Garamba park rangers using weapons and has outmaneuvered the rangers using GPS and satellite technology. Unfortunately, the current rates of elephant poaching mean that more elephants are being killed than are reproducing. The U.N. has given an estimate that the African elephant population has declined by at least 50% but possibly up to 90% percent, which is a detrimental loss of an already endangered species. The LRA is poaching elephants and it allows them to continue to spread violence in the region and to continue to evade the international community.

There is not all bad news, though; the LRA can still be stopped. The way to do this is by supporting the Garamba park rangers, in order to give them better equipment to find and fight the LRA. An example of this support was through the Economic Community of Central African States (ECCAS), which has launched an initiative worth over $2 million to combat elephant poaching. If the international community focuses on ending elephant poaching, it could also end Kony’s dangerous reign.

– Corina Balsamo

Sources: Enough Project, CNN, Conservation Biology
Photo: National Geographic