Guest blog by volunteer Ciska Scheijen
I have been volunteering for the Udzungwa Elephant Project for the last two months and am a student of wildlife management at Van Hall Larenstein University, The Netherlands.
At the end of November 2013, the Njokomoni farmers’ group got assistance once again from international Raleigh volunteers. The volunteers and the UEP team helped the farmers to maintain the bee-hive fence, which has the intended function of reducing crop-raiding by elephants. They re-build roofs for the bee-hives to protect the hives from sun and rain, and connected the hives with wire so that the bees would get disturbed whenever an elephant tries to push through the hive fence. The idea is that the disturbed bees will become agitated, and keep the elephants at bay from the farmland.
The volunteers also continued to clear a trail for tourists and visitors, so that the Njokomoni farmers can provide guided tours along the fences and farms. The money raised by the farmers from tourists and honey harvests will be used to maintain the fence and broaden bee-keeping activities.
I have been helping to measure the effectiveness of the beehive fence. Since mid-November, the elephants almost never passed a hive with a wire. They either walked between hives without a wire or walked around the fence. Therefore, it seems to be highly important to maintain the hives and fence properly as it appears to be an effective deterrent, as has been observed in Laikipia, Kenya.
However, on the evening and night of 7th-8th January, an elephant pushed down one of the bee-hives, which was populated by bees (see photo of upturned hive). Most likely, the elephant pushed the hive down when he was on his way back to the National Park. The damaged hive was found lying upside down almost 2 meters from its original position and alongside the park boundary.
This is the first reported incidence of an elephant pushing down a hive occupied by bees along the Udzungwa Mountains National Park boundary – and maybe the first incidence anywhere? It is unknown why the elephant did this, although we have some hypotheses including: 1) the elephant got agitated by the bees, and 2) the elephant was rushing back to safety (into the national park) and pushed the hive down en route. The bees had only recently – at the end of December 2013 – occupied this specific hive, so it was likely a relatively small colony and light in weight. Check back soon for further updates.