Elephants' Fear of Bees May Help Save Them

New study adds credence to innovative strategy being used to protect wild elephants
By John Johnson,  Newser Staff
Posted Jan 27, 2018 8:01 AM CST
Elephants' Fear of Bees May Help Save Them
In this file photo, an elephant shakes its head on hearing the sound of bees in Samburu National Park in Kenya.   (AP Photo/Lucy King)

Researchers tramped into a national park in Sri Lanka, played a recording of agitated honey bees within earshot of elephants, and got the reaction they hoped for: The elephants developed a serious case of the heebie jeebies. The study in Current Biology suggests that Asian elephants react in much the same way to bees as their counterparts in Africa—the giant creatures will go out of their way to avoid the insects. And this, the New York Times explains, is very good news for elephants because it adds credence to a novel new strategy being employed to protect them. Essentially, farmers string beehives around their property, which keeps the elephants away, thus reducing elephant-human interactions that generally end poorly for all the mammals involved.

The practice is becoming widespread in Africa, where Oxford researcher Lucy King first began her studies several years ago, and the new study suggests Asian farmers would be wise to follow suit. "If we could help apply the results from this research to develop effective community-based beehive fence deterrent systems for rural Asian farmers living with elephants, we could have a significant impact on the survival of the Asian elephant species," says King, per Science Daily. Reuters reports that a village in India has virtually eliminated once-common invasions by elephants with the practice, with a potential bonus: Farmers can reap a modest new income from the bees' honey, though there's a learning curve involved in maintaining the hives. (An elephant attacked and killed its handler in November.)

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