Thai farmers launch (bee) sting operation to stop elephants

To stop wild elephants from rampaging through their produce, farmers in Thailand put up electric fences, set off firecrackers and even switched their crops from pineapples to pumpkins, which the pachyderms don’t relish much. Nothing worked, so the villagers decided on Plan Bee.

In a pilot scheme run by the Thai Department of National Parks, farmers are deploying bees as a new line of defense, exploiting elephants’ documented fear of bee stings. The idea to play on the phobia came out of Oxford University research and has been used successfully for several years in Africa. It’s now gaining a toehold in Asia.

The problem is quite severe in the eastern province of Chanthaburi, which has thick forests near farming communities that grow rice, cassava, pineapple and rubber.

There are an estimated 3,000 wild elephants in Thailand, according to the Thai Elephant Conservation Center. And as farmers push into forests for agriculture, elephants have been forced to venture out of their shrinking habitats in search of food.

“Starting two years ago, elephants have come and destroyed farmers’ crops almost every day,” said Prasit Sae-Lee, the head of the local administration. “Elephants travel in a herd, a big herd, razing everything to the ground everywhere they go. The ground is flattened so much so that a 10-wheeled truck can drive through after they had gone.”

Thai farmers launch (bee) sting operation to stop elephants
In this Thursday, Aug 18, 2016 photo, travelers on a rural road watch from far away as a wild elephant walks on a road in Pana, southeastern province of Chanthaburi, Thailand. To stop wild elephants rampaging through their crops, farmers …more

Government officials suggested farmers stop growing pineapples, which elephants love.

“The latest suggestion is for us to grow pumpkins,” Prasit said. “But it didn’t solve anything. They destroyed pumpkins. They pulled roots out and stepped on them and even ate them.”

Help for the residents of the remote Pana village came from a government wildlife research station, which is helping them raise bees. It’s a simple technique. Traditionally beehives are placed on the ground, but here researchers raise them on stilts, putting them at eye level for the elephants.

Thai farmers launch (bee) sting operation to stop elephants
In this Thursday, Aug. 18, 2016 photo, villagers watch from afar as wild elephants crossing a rural road in Pana, southeastern province of Chanthaburi, Thailand. To stop wild elephants rampaging through their crops, farmers are trying a …more

Beehive boxes are connected with a rope to create a fence. When the elephants try to enter, they push at the ropes and shake the beehives, causing the bees to swarm out in a fearsome cloud of buzz and venomous sting that the animals are unlikely to forget.

“At first I thought it would not work. Even the forestry officials did not think it would work,” said Boonchu Sirimaha, 66, whose family became the first in the village to participate in the research project. “But after we put the beehives up (two months ago), it worked. The elephants were stung by the bees and they have not been back since.”

Source: Phys.org. Date: August 25, 2016

http://phys.org/news/2016-08-thai-farmers-bee-elephants.html