Tanzania is home to the third-largest population of African Savannah Elephants on the continent and the largest in East Africa, comprising about 60% of East Africa’s elephant population in 2015 (Thouless et al., 2016). This largest terrestrial living mammal is threatened by poaching, habitat loss and human-elephant conflicts. This keystone species has ecological, social, and economic importance, and drastic measures are needed to ensure it’s survival.
Quite often, communities living adjacent to protected areas engage in small-scale subsistence and cash crop farming, growing crops mostly palatable for elephants. These farmlands, positioned near dispersal areas, wildlife corridors, or within elephants’ range, are prone to elephant crop raiding, with most incidents occurring near the harvest season. Loss of crops affects farmers’ livelihoods, creating social and economic stress, and thus fostering negative attitudes towards elephants. Elephants are also threatened by retaliatory killings by farmers.
TEF fosters human-elephant coexistence through the participatory design of crop loss mitigation projects and the generation of additional income for communities living alongside elephants, including through beekeeping and rural savings and loans programs.
Discovered by Dr. Lucy King in 2010, a beehive fence consists of a series of beehives linked with wire, suspended from metal or wooden poles, and constructed alongside farmlands. Colonized beehives serve as a deterrent and protection against elephant crop raiding. Elephants are irritated by the buzzing and stinging of these honey bees, resulting in itching and swelling on their most sensitive body parts, such as their eyes, ears, and trunks. This is sufficient to redirect the elephant away from the area, preventing further damage in the long term.
Over the years, we have had the privilege of working with farmers’ groups in various locations, including Kisemo village along the Wami-Mbiki/Nyerere wildlife corridor, Kisaki village adjacent to Nyerere National Park in Morogoro district, Kisiwani village adjacent to Mkomazi National Park in Same district, and Tingatinga village adjacent to the Enduimet Community Wildlife Management Area in Longido district. The preliminary analysis of our data shows that beehive fences reduce elephant visits and crop damage when the beehives are occupied and the fences are well maintained, indicating a reduction of more than 75% in crop damage.
Beehive fences not only mitigate elephant crop raiding but can also help generate additional sources of income for communities that depend solely on crops for their livelihoods. Therefore, they can reduce the costs associated with living alongside wildlife by increasing the benefits and fostering a positive attitude and tolerance towards elephants.
TEF partners with farmers’ groups to enhance human-elephant coexistence through beekeeping. The beehive fence not only serves to effectively protect elephants from angry farmers and villagers, but it also symbolizes a change from trading ivory to selling locally sourced honey for the people around the community. Each sale of honey helps to maintain the beehive fences and improve the quality of life for the communities living alongside elephants.
The sale of honey has served as an alternative source of income, empowering farmers to invest in small businesses and enhancing their household resilience.
The beehive fence projects have a package of human-wildlife coexistence tourism, which allows tourists to visit the projects and donate more hives that help extend the fences to protect more farms.
TEF partners with tour operators that serve as conservation ambassadors to offer tourists both a wildlife adventure and a human-wildlife coexistence experience. Through visits to the beehive fence projects, tourists have the opportunity to learn how the fences function and meet the community members who maintain the projects.