Wild About Elephants progress report

Here is a photographic update on the progress with the bee project. We would like to thank Woolworths for all the support. The bees are very busy trying to keep their honey supplied going amid the drought conditions. None of the Maroela trees with hives have been impacted by elephants!

With appreciation of pachydermal proportions

Michelle Henley (PhD)

Co-founder, Programme Manager and Principal Researcher Elephants Alive




Investigating the use of African honeybees as a mitigation method for elephant impact on marula trees in the Greater Kruger biosphere

Robin Cook (MSc. Candidate, University of the Witwatersrand)


PROF. F. PARRINI (Associate Professor, University of the Witwatersrand)

DR. M. D. HENLEY (Programme Manager, Elephants Alive; Research Fellow, University of South Africa)

DR. L. E. KING (‘Elephants and Bees Project’ leader, Save the Elephants)

DR. K. MORFELD (Endocrinologist and post-doctoral researcher at the Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute)

Research problem

• African elephants: major drivers of ecosystem change: pushing down trees and opening up vegetated habitats (Coetzee et al. 1979; Jacobs and Biggs 2002)

• South Africa: concerns over the impact of elephants on vegetation structure and diversity (Cumming et al. 1997; Whyte et al. 1998; Owen-Smith et al. 2006)

• Marula trees: Long-term studies report on severe elephant-related damage to adult trees through ring-barking, pollarding and toppling events

(Jacobs and Biggs 2002; Shannon et al. 2008; Helm and Witkowski 2012)

• Important to develop methods to mitigate the effects that elephants have on adult marula trees

 Study motivation



• African honeybee (Apis mellifera scutellata): notoriously aggressive honeybee

• Elephants actively avoid contact with bees in:

  Acacia trees (Vollrath and Douglas-Hamilton 2002)

Playback recordings of swarming bees (King et al. 2007)

Bee-live fencelines (King et al. 2009; 2011)

•African honeybee: important pollinator of marula trees (Chirwa and Akinnifesi 2008)


To investigate whether or not African honeybees can be used as a non-lethal method to deter African elephants from severely damaging marulatrees

 Study site

Jejane Private Nature Reserve (within the APNR)


 Progress of project


Beehive construction workshop



Marula tree baseline assessments


•Primary branch breakage

•Main stem breakage



Wire-netting marula trees




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