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Drones and Beekeepers - Elephant Mahouts of the Future?

September 06, 2017 Drones and Beekeepers - Elephant Mahouts of the Future?


In the past, we have covered the reaction of elephants to the noise associated with motorized hang gliders, helicopters and drones. In fact, the author had a personal presumed life-threatening experience when a helicopter hovered overhead while riding the elephant Jenny as she went totally berserk. Jenny has killed more than one rider to date under similar circumstances and is working under an assumed name somewhere in Thailand transporting unsuspecting riders for what could be their last elephant round-up. The speculation has been that elephants are afraid of bees and similar sounds which seems to be the case.

Elephant control in the wild is essential in today's world to control rampant poaching in Africa and human/elephant conflict situations in Southeast Asia. Obviously, one solution in the savanna setting of Africa is very different from what is needed in the densely forested areas of Southeast Asia. The poaching risk to elephants in Africa is rampant and has become a preferred means to raise funds for various terrorist groups.

Accordingly, large expanses of territory fit perfectly with the use of drones to patrol both day and night and then to utilize the sound of the drones to drive the elephant herds away from the poachers. Shown below is an application underway in Malawi which was covered in a recent New York Times article.


Drones are not necessarily the silver bullet one might hope given the cost and technology involved as well as constant surveillance. As always, staunching demand is the clear answer to any poaching for animal parts, but at least drones could represent a path forward in the interim. Before you throw money at the conservation groups advocating drone usage, have a look at their financials and see what portion of contributions are used to support overhead and how much actually reaches the purported program. You would be surprised in some cases.

Sadly, a major clearing house for illegal ivory transshipment to both Vietnam and China is Bangkok. In fact, some 600 pounds of ivory have been confiscated on commercial airline flights from Malawi as shown below:


Nonetheless, there have been some very positive and affordable developments in Thailand in the use of bees to avoid human/elephant conflict situations that will only go one way with a diminishing wild in Southeast Asia and the encroachment of agricultural and housing developments.

The Bangkok Post recently published an article featuring Khun Dararat Sirimaha, who is not only a farmer, but an ardent elephant conservationist. She lives in Chanthaburi province which is south and east of Bangkok on the border with Cambodia containing three national parks with a number of wild elephants. After many years of losing her crops to elephant damage, Khun Dararat made contact with Khun Rachaya of the Phuluang Wildlife Research Station who pioneered the use of beehive fences in Thailand.

Khun Rachaya drew upon the work of Lucy King who heads the Kenya-based conservation group, Save the Elephants, to seek their permission to adopt the beehive fence project in Thailand. The fence around Khun Dararat's farm consists of 40 beehive boxes as shown below which are hung from a pair of ropes strung between six-foot high posts. Each box contains thousands of bees which will swarm out if an elephant pushes the ropes in an effort to reach the crops.



While a bee's stinger cannot pierce an adult elephant's thick skin, they can inflict some discomfort around the trunk, eyes and ears. Therefore, once attacked, the elephants remember and never return. One could postulate that the sounds of helicopters and drones cause the elephants to recall previous painful bee sting experiences in the wild.

Some of Khun Dararat's neighbors erected electric fences which she abhors as on occasion they are not set properly and elephants are electrocuted. Therefore, she is quite happy to protect her crops and supplement her income with sales of honey and beeswax. She also builds bee boxes for sale but will give you one if anyone would like to give it a test drive. In her words, "One thing I am not going to do is to hurt elephants." As her shirt reads, "BEE THE CHANGE!"




 
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