African honeybees as a mitigation method for elephant impact on trees

Jan 1, 2018 | Studies

R.M. Cook (a),⁎, F. Parrini (a), L.E. King (b,c), E.T.F. Witkowski (a), M.D. Henley (d,e)
(a) School of Animal, Plant and Environmental Sciences, University of the Witwatersrand, Johannesburg, South Africa
(b) Animal Behaviour Research Group, Department of Zoology, University of Oxford, Tinbergen Building, South Parks Road, Oxford OX1 3PS, UK
(c) Save the Elephants, P.O. Box 54667, Nairobi 00200, Kenya
(d) Applied Behavioural Ecology and Ecosystem Research Unit, School of Environmental Sciences, University of South Africa, Private Bag X5, Florida 1710, South Africa
(e) Elephants Alive, P.O. Box 960, Hoedspruit 1380, South Africa

Conservation managers are concerned about the impact that African elephants (Loxodonta africana) have on large tree species, necessitating the need for mitigation methods. Elephants actively avoid contact with African
honeybees (Apis mellifera subsp. scutellata), staying clear of crop fields surrounded by beehive fence-lines and moving away from the sounds of swarming honeybees. Therefore, our objectives were to test whether the
presence of beehives in trees influenced the likelihood of the tree receiving elephant impact, and compare these results to wire-netted (method used to prevent bark-stripping) and control (no treatment) trees. We selected a tree highly sought after by elephant, the marula tree (Sclerocarya birrea subsp. caffra), as our study species. We also assessed whether elephants avoided areas with marula trees containing beehives. Finally we provide a comparison of the financial costs of the beehive and wire-netting mitigation methods. We hung 50 active beehives in 50 trees, with 50 dummy beehives hung from branches on the opposite ends of each tree’s main stem. We wire-netted another 50 trees and then assigned 50 trees as a control. Elephant impact on all 150 trees was measured prior to the addition of treatments and then post-treatment addition for 9 months. 54% of the control trees received some form of elephant impact, in comparison to 28% of the wire-netted trees and only 2% of the beehive trees. Wire-netting protected trees against bark-stripping but did not prevent elephants from breaking branches. Beehives proved to be the more effective mitigation method for elephant impact on large trees, although the presence of beehives did not prevent elephants from moving through the study site. The financial cost and maintenance required for the beehive mitigation method are greater than that of wire-netting, but the beehives can provide honey as an additive benefit on a small-scale usage level.

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