By Catherine Nambi and Akugizibwe Peter Araali
With the frequent crossing of the elephants to the gardens the area is one of the hot spots for the human – elephant conflicts in Uganda.
Some farmers have built makeshift houses near the National Park boundary where they sleep at night to be able to repulse the elephants which mostly cross to the gardens in the evening and at night.
In their research, Mutungi Sam and Bruce Robin Nyamweha of Mountains of the Moon University cited that as a protection measure against elephants, most respondents (63%) said they call park rangers, 17% said they opt to kill the elephants, 10 said they scare them with spears, 5% said they always run from the animals and 5% seek police help.
TABLE SHOWING PROTECTION ACTION BY RESIDENTS AT THE SIGHT OF ELEPHANTS
CALL PARK RANGERS
OPT TO KILL THE ELEPHANTS
SCARE THEM WITH SPEARS
ALWAYS RUN FROM THE ANIMALS
SEEK POLICE HELP
Mwireri Erios who has a cassava garden near the park says the elephants are a big threat to their harvests.
Moses Agaba the coordinator of the Katara Women’s Group says they came up with the initiative of bee hive fencing after witnessing the elephant population in the area reducing because angry residents were poisoning and spearing to death the elephants out of anger.
He says they started the project in 2019 with few beehives but have kept on increasing, putting the beehives where the elephants usually cross.
According to Agaba, since they started the erection of the bee hives around the park., the challenge of human-elephant conflicts is reducing.
People now grow their crops and they aren’t destroyed by elephants except elephants penetrate where there are no beehives so their target is to cover the whole boundary 10km park boundary with beehives. They have so far covered approximately 3kms.
Leticia Nayebale, 22 years old, is a member of the Katara Women’s Poverty Group which has set up beehives along the park. She says the frequent crossing by the elephants forced her to join the group and set up hives. She currently owns 25 bee hives.
Nayebare explains, “We normally dig around the park but after digging the animals attack and destroy our crops. Now after they brought this idea of using beehives to prevent elephants from crossing to our gardens that is why I engaged in having those beehives there at the park to be like my fence. Now the animals which were disturbing us can’t even come.”
What prompts elephants to cross to the gardens
Ritah Murungi, the Ruibirizi District Natural Resources Officer, says communities have some kind of land shortage so they prefer using the land adjacent to the protected areas for agriculture.
She says the majority of the farmers at the park boundary plant food crops like watermelon, tomatoes, cassava, cabbage and others which are palatable for the animals and thus attract them.
“Usually, they plant food crops that attract elephants like watermelon, tomatoes and onions. When they (animals) come they do a lot of destruction which is affecting the community. Whenever people see those animals, they try to kill them so that they reduce their (animal) population. That is now the scenario that we have in,” Murungi elaborates.
The elephants mostly cross to the gardens in the evening and at night so the residents have to keep in their gardens to chase the herbivores which can eat up to ten acres of plants in one night.
Beehive fencing proving effective in mitigating human-elephant conflicts
The Rubirizi district Senior Entomologist, Geofrey Muhindo, says these beehives are erected at the park boundary so that when the animals attempt to cross to the gardens, they hit the beehives and awaken the bees.
He says the elephants fear bee sting and as such cannot stay in an area where they sense the presence of bees.
“Of course, elephants come not knowing that there are bees. We have set up a long line of beehives. It is our trap. When they come, they bump into the bees and the bees wake up and try to defend themselves by stinging the elephants.
All of a sudden you see elephants running away not crossing into farmers’ fields. That is practically how it works.” Muhindo explains.
Uganda Wildlife Authority (UWA) Warden In charge of Kyambura Wildlife Reserve, Captain John Tugume, says several methods including the digging of pits or trenches and the use of the electric fencing around the park have not yielded much result.
He says the electric fence is expensive (one kilometre of electric fence takes almost Ushs50 million) but also, the elephants are wise and oftentimes fill the trenches with soil and then cross over.
According to a yet-to-be-published research by scholars from Mountains of the Moon University, crop damage is at 1.7% in areas with apiary while in regions without apiary, it stands at 98.3%.
Human deaths in areas with apiary are at 0% but where there is no apiary, it is at 100%. Human injury in areas with apiary is reported at 3.8% and 96.2% in areas without apiary. Property destruction is 0% in areas with apiary and 100% without apiary. The same research also indicates 0% livestock predation in areas with apiary and 100% without apiary.
Beehive fencing and tourism
Elephants are one of the most important tourist attractions in Uganda.
They also make up a big percentage of the animals in the Queen Elizabeth National Park. However, the numbers have been reducing over time due to human-elephant conflicts.
Moses Agaba says his group adopted the use of bee hive fencing after realizing that the elephant population and the tourists that visit because of elephants were reducing as a result of the human-elephant conflicts
“Before we started this intervention, we made reports to Uganda Wildlife Authority (UWA). The UWA don’t give any compensation so people started poisoning the elephants. Women who do farming at the boundary deployed strongmen to kill the elephants,” Agaba reveals.
Adding, “After a long time losing our elephants, tourism in our area reduced. We get many tourists who come to visit Queen Elizabeth to see elephants so when people kill all the elephants in the area, we lose out. That is why we started beekeeping to save elephants and promote tourism in our areas,”
Apiary and crop yields around the park
Moses Agaba says they indeed get high crop yields around the park because of the bees a reason most of them have embraced apiary to not only chase elephants but also improve crop yields.
Apiary and improved livelihoods for communities
The beekeeping has not only solved the human-elephant conflicts around the park but it is also a source of honey and bee products which the women of Katara Poverty Alleviation Group sell and get money for other basic needs.
“I have my brothers who had stopped schooling because of not having money to take them to school but since we started having the beehives, we are getting honey and can sell that honey to take them to school. Even me as a youth I can get what I need rather than requesting from other people,” Nayebare, a member of the Group states.
Murungi, a Natural Resources Officer, affirms that indeed the people harvest a lot of honey products from the hives around the park which they sell and improve their livelihoods. She says in a season they can get about 200 kilograms of honey which is processed by the Katara women themselves and then packaged.
Murungi notes, “The market for honey is not a problem. The problem is the production to serve the market [meet the demand]. We have many lodges around that use a lot of honey. The availability of the market has led to the scaling up of this intervention. The bees deter wild animals but at the same time, farmers benefit through the sale of honey products, and tourism. Farmers find themselves having a better livelihood,”
Muhindo, also an entomologist, says the sale of beehive products like honey, wax and propolis, which are much sought after by people, also generates income from agrotourism. People come from different parts of the world to learn about the practice of beehive fencing in Katara village.
Challenges to beehive fencing around the park
The major challenge currently experienced by beekeepers around the park is the use of pesticides which kill the bees and also contaminate the honey. Muhindo says the challenge is so big, especially in the cotton-growing areas where farmers use a lot of pesticides in their gardens.
“Watermelon and tomatoes use a lot of pesticides so these affect the bees. When bees come to pollinate flowers of these crops they also consume the pesticides which affect their health and eventually reduce in population.” Muhindo notes.
According to Captain John Tugume, pesticides do not only kill bees but also affect the quality of honey which is sometimes rejected in some markets.
“I have always told them that spraying especially neighbouring the park is very bad. It contaminates the honey yet people want organic honey without chemicals but when bees go and get pollen grain from sprayed flowers it will automatically be carried into the honey and when they are checking they will find the honey contaminated,” says Captain Tugume.
Tugume says the farmers are being sensitized to get away from the growing of crops which need regular spraying and instead focus on growing crops like coffee or tea which don’t need spraying.
He says coffee and tea also don’t attract herbivores and can help in supporting the natural vegetation around the park for bees to collect nectar.
According to Tugume, their sensitization has resulted in Kicwamba Sub County leading in coffee and tea production in Rubirizi district.
Agaba also says they need to be helped to get metallic stands for the bee hives. He says they are currently using wooden stands which are not effective because sometimes when the beehive is heavy the stands break and the beehives fall.
He says they need to introduce metallic stands so that their beehives can stay longer.
Paul Mulondo, the coordinator forests and biodiversity program at The World-Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) Uganda the organization working in partnership with UWA to implement the beehive fencing project, says the method has been used successfully in Kenya around the Masai Mara and in different places surrounding protection areas in Tanzania.
He says with the available statistics there is confidence that bee hive fencing can greatly reduce human-elephant conflicts and also progressively improve the livelihoods of the people especially the women around Queen Elizabeth National Park.
According to Mulondo, his organization is now working to ensure market linkages for bee products.
Captain Tugume says as Uganda wildlife authority and Kyambura Wildlife Reserve are looking forward to making Katara a model bee-keeping group in the entire western region.
He says they are looking at empowering Katara to see that other people, other groups across the country can come and see how beehives are arranged, how they make them colonized and how they are placed and how best they can also deter elephants entering community crops.