Bees to save the elephants?!

Many believe that elephants are scared of mice… This is a myth! But, did you know that they don’t get along very well with bees?

Thus, as part of its conservation project at the Campo Ma’an National Park in Cameroon, the Zoo de Granby and its partners had the idea of installing beehives to circumvent the elephants’ route away from the villages and ultimately, help them to escape poachers. The result: happy villagers, fields of crops and plantations spared, and elephants protected… plus, honey as a treat for everyone!

Let’s start at the beginning! Over the past 5 years, the Zoo de Granby has developed a partnership with several conservation organizations in Cameroon in order to encourage the protection of the Campo Ma’an National Park’s biodiversity (264,000 ha). The park is located in the southern part of the country. Actions were mainly to protect elephants and gorillas.

Through its work, the zoo hopes to support the ecoguards in their fight against poachers and to contribute to the scientific work analyzing these animals’ movements.

One of the issues the zoo is interested in is that many elephants pass through villages and eat the fruits in the tree plantations established by the local native Bagyeli Pygmy communities who live all along the park’s limits. This has created many conflicts between humans and elephants. Here is where the bees come in…

The Zoo de Granby and Concordia University had the idea of replicating an experiment carried out in Kenya. They built a fence around the plantations, but not just any fence… This one was made of beehives! The hives offer honey for the community, and the bees ensure that the plantations are protected, plus they’d pollinate the fruit trees.

The “hive fences” are an initiative created by researcher Lucy King, in 2006, supported by Oxford University, Disney’s Animal Kingdom and the Save the Elephants organization. Her project is still going on in savannah areas of Kenya.

We weren’t sure the project would be a success at the Campo Na’an National Park because, here, we’re working in a tropical forest setting. Bees therefore have less of an interest in settling in their hives, since there are many natural shelters for them.

Still, actions were implemented in 2018 thanks to the financial support of the Zoo de Granby and the participation of the Ministry of Forestry and Wildlife, and Ministère de l’Élevage des Pêches et Industries Animales au Cameroun.

About twenty hives have now been installed in two populated zones where elephants are also present. In February, the first liters of honey were gathered and given to the village’s chief and one of the plantation’s owners. Mead and candles were made with the honey and wax.

The objective now is to install between 50 and one hundred hives throughout the next years in order to produce more honey for the local markets and to ensure that the hive fences are effective for protecting the plantations against the elephants’ voracious appetites. It seems to be working because the farmers from the Mabiogo Village have stated that, over the last few months, the elephants haven’t been wandering near their plantations!

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