Responses of African elephants towards a bee threat: Its application in mitigating human–elephant conflict

Research Article
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01 February 2016

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Human settlement expansion into elephant ranges, as well as increasing elephant populations within confined areas has led to heightened levels of human–elephant conflict in southern African communities living near protected areas. Several methods to mitigate this conflict have been suggested including the use of bees as an elephant deterrent. We investigated whether bee auditory and olfactory cues (as surrogates for live bees) could be used to effectively deter elephants. We evaluated the responses of elephants in the southern section of the Kruger National Park to five different treatments: (1) control noise, (2) buzzing bee noise, (3) control noise with honey scent, (4) honey scent, and (5) bee noise with honey scent. Elephants did not respond or displayed less heightened responses to the first four treatments. All elephants exposed to the bee noise with honey scent responded with defensive behaviours and 15 out of 21 individuals also fled. We concluded that buzzing bees or honey scent as isolated treatments (as may be the case with dormant beehives) were not effective elephant deterrents, but rather an active beehive emitting a combination of auditory and olfactory cues was a viable deterrent. However, mismatches in the timing of elephant raids and activity of bees may limit the use of bees in mitigating the prevailing human–elephant conflict.


Loxodonta africana; South Africa; auditory cues; olfactory cues; behaviour
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