Beehive Fences Help Protect Farmers’ Crops

As human development continues to expand and encroach on wildlife, there has been an increase in human-wildlife interaction and conflict over the years, particularly in areas within Kenya where humans and animals directly share the local land and resources. This phenomenon is further magnified by climate change, which causes the wildlife to change their migratory patterns in search of food.

One such area is Kileva, a small sub-area within the Taita-Taveta County, situated a few kilometers from Rukinga. Here, the dwellers are prone to conflicts with elephants, which frequently destroy farmers’ crops during the dry seasons. As many of these farmers rely on their crop yield to survive, this has become a pressing issue in need of a resolution.

The Kileva Foundation, a small charity based in Sagalla, has been working to find a wildlife-friendly solution to this issue by introducing local farmers to the beehive fencing system, in which beehives are placed around the perimeter of a farm in order to deter elephants from entering and stomping on the crops.

Beehive fences with path set aside for elephants.

In early July, Wildlife Works met with the Kileva Project, along with Save the Elephants (STE), to discuss the implementation of the beehive system in Kasigau. Together, we plan to work with struggling farmers in the area, many of whom lose up to 60% of their crops to elephants within a given year.

Mr. Godwin Kilele, the operational director of the Kileva project, provided us with some fascinating information about how this system works with the natural tendencies of both bees and elephants.

During dry seasons, elephants are constantly out in search of food. The change of climate pushes them closer to villages and they will not hesitate to invade crop farms. But when a herd approaches a farm that is surrounded with beehives, the loud buzzing of the colony will trigger painful memories and force the group in a different direction, leaving the farm untouched.

Like elephants, bees must change their migratory patterns during the dry seasons. During this time, bees must relocate to new environments in order to survive. The man-made beehive “boxes” placed around the farm provide ready-made homes for bees on the search.

Not only do the bees keep elephants from destroying farmer’s crops, they also produce honey, which the farmer can sell to offset the costs of building the fence. Bees also help the farmer by pollenating the crops, thus increasing total crop yield.

A farm that has been fenced with beehives.

Mr. Kilele took us to two different farms that are part of a survey to measure the effectiveness of beehive fencing. The beehive system is rather expensive for rural farmers, so The Kileva Project wants to ensure they develop some best practices before the system is implemented. He walked us through the process by which the fences are set up:

Once the posts are embedded in the ground, it is necessary to install a cross bar to help hold up both the beehive and a thatched roof which helps to protect the hive from vagaries of nature. Iron sheet shields are nailed to the upright post at least two feet above the ground to prevent honey badgers from climbing up the post.

The hive is hung at chest height for ease of harvesting, to protect it from honey badgers, and to be as visible as possible for an approaching elephant. The simple thatched roof is an easy solution to keep the hive cool from the sun, and to keep the bees dry in the rain. This is essential because if left in the sun, the overheated bees will become aggressive and eventually leave.

Man-made beehive with sugar water to attract bees.

Mr. Mwangome, a 54 year-old father of four and grandfather, is thankful that the Kileva group has fenced his farm, and is now waiting for the results of the project, which will determine the effectiveness of the system. He narrated to us a past painful memory of all of his crops being mercilessly fed on by elephants, leaving him with nothing to rely on.

The people in the surrounding communities are also hopeful about this system. Without the fear of encountering elephants, their children can walk to school safely.

Wildlife Works is happy to team up with the Kileva project to implement beehive style fencing both in Rukinga and Marungu. We continue to study the effectiveness of the system, as well as its effects on the livelihood of the elephants. Through Kileva’s survey, we hope to gain more insight so that we can help the farmers in our area implement the system with confidence.

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