Living ‘Bee Fences’ Protect Farmers from Elephants, and Vice Versa

A string of hives between posts can fend off the pachyderms better than other deterrents, research shows.

In the African bush in southern Kenya, Lucy King watched an elephant nicknamed Mohican rest under an acacia tree, seemingly nonplussed by an overhead beehive. It was 2007, and King had just published a behavioral study confirming a belief, widely held by Indigenous communities for thousands of years, that elephants are terrified of bees. “I was completely thrown by this,” King says, recalling the day she sat watching the untroubled matriarch. “I was like ‘No!’”

Bees tend to sting elephants around the eyes, behind the ears, in the mouth and even inside the trunk. For her research, King, a zoologist and head of the Human-Elephant Co-Existence Program at the nonprofit organization Save the Elephants (STE), had documented families of elephants running from bees, kicking up dust and shaking their head as if trying to knock bees out of the air. Even recordings of buzzing bees that King played in the bush led to elephants running and “warning” others as they fled.

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