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How Bee-Scented Repellent May Save Elephants

While elephants may be famous for their dislike of mice, it’s their intense dislike of bees that may save them. A new study attempted to replicate bee pheromones in hopes of creating a “bee repellant” that can be used to reduce unwanted human-elephant conflicts. The recently published study said scientists were successful and were able to create a formula that successfully and safely repelled elephants.

Humans have known for decades that elephants have an intense dislike of bees and that beehives around crops repel elephants. It’s believed over millions of years and memories of the pain of bee stings elephants have learned to recognize the smell of bees and move away upon their smell. This intense dislike of bees is what scientists hoped to tap into with a bee repellant.

Scientists conducted a set of experiments at Greater Kruger National Park in South Africa to test the effectiveness of a bee repellant derived from honey bee pheromones. To test the repellant scientists placed it around watering holes frequented by elephants in the park. As the elephants approached the watering holes they “showed typical signs of increased alertness, signs of uncertainty, and finally calmly moved away, while those approaching control treatments were eager to investigate the foreign object in their environment,” as the U.N. reported.

Problematic elephant and human interactions have increased in recent decades as human populations in Asia and Africa grow and encroach on traditional elephant territory. Elephants have trampled crops on nearby farms and at times trampled farmers. Humans also poach elephants for their ivory tusks, and a repellant could be used to help steer elephants away from poaching areas.

A wildlife expert at UN Environment, Julian Blanc, emphasized that while the bee repellant was promising, long-term effectiveness still needed to be assessed.

“For instance, it needs to be shown that elephants do not become habituated to the pheromones over time, and that the product does not cause any unintended consequences for already embattled elephants or honey bee populations,” Blanc said.

“Even then, it is only likely to be effective if employed as part of a holistic approach that includes preventive interventions like land-use planning and other mitigation tools. The product would also need to be made affordable to rural farmers, and they would need to be trained on its appropriate application.”


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