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The Elephants and Bees Project:

Check out our conservation work in Kenya where bees are helping to save elephants and people!

When elephants and humans reside in the same areas, they can come into conflict with one another.
Crop-raiding is a particularly big problem. Elephants are herbivores, so crops grown by local communities are a huge attractant. When elephants raid crops, local farmers are forced to defend their livelihoods, which can result in serious, life-threatening conflict.

In Northern Kenya, the local Turkana people in the Nage Mara community tend livestock and grow crops in an elephant corridor that leads into the Samburu and Buffalo Springs National Reserves. Crop-raiding and elephant conflict are common in these communities. So scientists at Disney’s Animal Kingdom teamed up with Dr. Iain Douglas-Hamilton, Fritz Vollrath and Lucy King from Save the Elephants to examine ways of deterring crop-raiding elephants.

Elephants Make Bee Alarm Calls

Even though elephants are the heaviest land mammal in the world, they are afraid of tiny animals—bees! Elephants have tough skin but bees can sting them in sensitive areas, like inside their trunks. Scientists observed elephants choosing trees to rest under during the day, and found that they avoided the ones with beehives. Then, scientists with Disney and Save the Elephants used audio playback experiments to see how elephants react to and communicate about bees in the wild. First, scientists found elephants at rest under the shade of trees. Then, they hid a small speaker nearby to play the sounds of angry bees. They also placed several microphones around the elephants to record their vocalizations.

Upon hearing the sounds of bees, elephants shake their heads, flee the area and make low frequency “rumble” vocalizations that signal “danger!” to other elephants nearby. When scientists played these “bee alarm calls” to other elephant families, they ran away as if bees were around, even though no bees were present. These studies showed that bees could be very useful in keeping elephants away from certain areas, like farmers’ crops.

Beehive Fences Protect Crops

Armed with this new knowledge about elephants and bees, Save the Elephants’ conservationists went to the community of Ngare Mara in Kenya, where crop raiding was a real problem. They worked with local farmers to build “beehive fences” around their fields.

The fences are constructed from man-made beehives connected together by a strong wire. The artificial hives are colonized by wild bees, and when elephants run into the hives or the connecting wire, they disturb the bees. Hearing the bee sounds and occasionally getting stung keeps the elephants away. Not only are farmers’ crops safe from elephants, but the farmers can harvest the “elephant-friendly” honey from the hives. Thanks to the Elephants and Bees project, bees are helping elephants and people in Kenya.

Community Education

Disney and Save the Elephants have also joined up to spearhead educational efforts to reach Turkana children and families. We integrate conservation messages into school curriculum and engage in activities to help connect children and families to wildlife, ensuring a future for elephants and people in Northern Kenya.

One activity involves the use of hula hoops to teach children about protecting wildlife. This “endangered species” game is a twist on musical chairs. Each child gets to be a different animal. When threats to wildlife increase, there are less hoops for the children to
jump into. But when people take actions to reduce threats to wildlife, there are more hoops for the children. Children learn that simple actions can make
a difference for elephants, other wildlife and habitats.

To learn more about Save the Elephants, visit:

To learn more about the Elephants and Bees project, visit:

To learn more about Elephant Communication please visit the links below:

African elephant vocalizations
and behavior

Recording Elephant Vocalizations and Behavior
Check out our elephant collar audio-recording system

Elephant Exercise
Using GPS to evaluate
how elephants utilize
their exhibit space

Read our publications
Examine our findings
in detail

Meet our Elephant
Research Team

Professional Members
Elephant Information
Updated: July 26, 2012