Sri Lanka’s so-called human-elephant conflict has become a major human and environmental crisis, with hundreds of elephants and human beings being killed or injured and otherwise affected. Essentially it is a case of unplanned development where human beings are taking over the traditional jungle habitats of these majestic creatures hallowed in our history and still brought in to parade gracefully at Peraheras. When the elephants’ jungle homelands are robbed, they have no option but to come into human habitations to find food and drinking water. We rob them and still refer to them as rogue elephants. They are voiceless and have no right of reply except to sound a trumpet call that if the number of elephants continues to dwindle and deforestation goes on, these factors will add to Sri Lanka’s environmental catastrophe.
Environmentalist and animal rights activist Laura Caseley, in an article headlined ‘How bees, elephants and farmers are keeping each other safe in an ingenious way’, gives us some sound natural advice on how to maintain the crucial eco-balance for broader unity in diversity and to the common good of all.
According to her, being a farmer is hard work-but being a farmer in places like Sri Lanka, Kenya and Botswana has a challenge that most other countries do not. The challenge is from elephants. Wild elephants, whose natural behaviour is to roam, have been known to march right through fields, damaging and destroying crops. When the farmers try to intervene, things can turn ugly, and both human and elephant injuries or even deaths can occur. Sadly, like too many animals, elephants face many dangers at the hands of humans. It is a shame, because these creatures are intelligent, sensitive, and have complex emotional and social connections, forming strong bonds with one another and with different animals too.
Ms. Caseley says a solution was needed not only to keep the farmers safe, but also make sure the elephants are in no way harmed. This solution was not only brilliantly simple, but also had the added bonus of helping out another. In areas where elephants are free-roaming, humans need to learn to coexist with them. Sadly, elephants like to raid farms at night, eating and flattening crops and damaging the farmers’ livelihoods.
Elephants usually raid fields at night, and to ward them off, people have fired guns, thrown rocks and launched firecrackers to scare them off. Just like with humans, an injury or death in an elephant’s family unit puts major emotional stress on the herd. The devastation to fields is no small issue, either. Small farmers rely on their crops to survive, and a damaged field can mean a serious loss of income and food.
There seemed to be no simple solution, until zoologist Dr. Lucy King noticed something: Elephants really do not like bees and generally avoid them. If they hear buzzing, they will leave an area signalling to others that bees are around. This is because the bees’ stings are especially painful to the elephants’ trunks, to avoid this pain, the elephants prefer to just stay away. Thus, bee fences were born.
Beefencing means to hang rows of beehives, each connected by a length of wire.When a nosy elephant approaches, it will knock into the wire, setting the hives swinging and disturbing the bees. When the elephants hear that buzzing, they will turn around and leave. The crops are safe, the humans are safe, and the elephants are safe. The bees are safe too.
Dr. King has been working with various conservation organizations and communities in Sri Lanka and African countries, building these beefences around local farms. She hopes that this will be the first of many steps to create sustainable solutions where humans and animals can coexist peacefully. The project has also attracted the attention of some big names who are chipping into create more beefences. The bees also help pollinate fields and maintain the biodiversity needed to support an ecosystem, so the farmers get a helping hand, too. As an added bonus, the farmers get to keep the honey and beeswax produced by their hives. They could use it or sell it.