It's true; elephants are surprisingly afraid of bees. It’s hard to believe that these goliaths are afraid of a small insect, but this fear may help save their lives. Even though their hides are essentially immune to bee stings, the soft, sensitive tissue inside an elephant’s trunk, mouth, and around their eyes means they will flap their ears, stir up dust, trumpet loudly, and flee in terror when they hear the buzz of a beehive.
This vulnerability is now being used in the elephant’s favour, by enterprising and innovative groups like South Africa’s Elephants Alive. In 2015, Elephants Alive began its pioneering ‘Bees, Trees, Elephants and People’ programme to investigate ways of reducing the impact of elephants on iconic large trees. Guided by successes in east Africa that utilized beehive fencing to protect farmers’ crops, Elephants Alive pioneered hanging beehives in iconic tree species. This experiment has proven highly successful, as not only do elephants avoid these trees, but the bees help pollinate the trees, thereby providing the additional benefits of honey and beeswax production.
The mission of Elephants Alive is to foster coexistence values between people and elephants. Since 2015, the ‘Bees, Trees, Elephants & People’ programme has expanded, and the Elephants Alive team are now training the award-winning, all-female Black Mambas Anti-Poaching Unit to become beekeepers.
Click here to read the full story about this project, which was one of the nine successful recipients of grants from the ‘COVID-19 Response: Resilience in Wildlife Communities’ initiative, launched in 2020 by The Lion’s Share and the Small Grants Programme (SGP), a corporate programme of the Global Environment Facility (GEF) that is implemented by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP).