They’ve built barriers, shone flashlights and even burned their rubber-soled shoes. yet try as they might, African farmers struggle to keep elephants from trampling their land and destroying their crops.
The answer, finally, may be found in the sound of a swarm of buzzing bees. “They really bolted,” says Lucy King at the University of Oxford, whose team played 4-minute recordings of bees to 17 herds of elephants in the Buffalo Springs and Samburo national reserves in Kenya. “One herd even ran across a river to get away.”
King successfully deterred 16 of the 17 herds by playing them recordings from speakers hidden in a portable fake tree trunk. Some herds put more than 100 metres between them and the buzz. The average “safe” distance for the elephants was 64 metres, compared with just 20 metres to avoid white noise (Current Biology, vol 17, p R832).
King decided to act after hearing that elephants avoid trees containing beehives. One game warden told her of seeing a large bull elephant being stung up its trunk. “It went completely beserk, apparently,” she says.
Although the recordings work well, the equipment needed to play it is expensive. King believes a cheaper, more sustainable solution is to use real beehives, with the honey they supply providing additional food and income for farmers. She is conducting field trials using real hives to discover what effect they have on elephants, and just how sweet the benefits are for farmers.
From: New Scientist, 13 October 2007, page5