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Karnataka: ‘Fence of honeybees’ around village curbs elephant-human conflict, to be replicated in other states

More states in India are likely to install fences of honeybees in areas prone to human-elephant conflict, after a pilot initiative in Karnataka’s Kodagu was found to be successful in the past month.

Union Minister for Micro Small and Medium Enterprises (MSMEs) Nitin Gadkari hailed the initiative Thursday. “It has provided relief to farmers, and is saving crops and precious lives. West Bengal, Jharkhand, Odisha, Chhattisgarh, Assam, Tamil Nadu and Kerala are major elephant–human conflict zones where KVIC is planning to implement Project RE-HAB in a phased manner,” he tweeted with a video of the initiative.

Under Project RE-HAB (Reducing Elephant – Human Attacks using Bees), launched in Karnataka last month by Khadi and Village Industries Commission (KVIC), boxes with bees were placed at various locations near Chelur village in Karnataka’s Kodagu. Officials had hoped that the buzzing of the bees would confuse and frighten the elephants, making them turn away. The total cost of the pilot project was estimated to be around Rs 15 lakh.

Now that it is to be taken to other states, KVIC officials said Gadkari had “emphasised the participation of the Agriculture ministry and the Environment and Forest ministry for the effective implementation of the project.”

KVIC Chairman Vinai Kumar Saxena said, “The initiative can reduce human-elephant conflicts, increase farmers’ income through beekeeping, and potentially address climate change, regenerate forest cover and ensure food security for wild animals in their natural habitats.”

According to data issued by KVIC from four locations on the periphery of Nagarhole National Park in Karnataka, elephant movement was detected in the area several times in the last fortnight of March.

“However, a number of elephants were seen returning to the jungles fearing honey bees. Also, no destruction of crops or properties by elephants has been reported in these areas since these bee boxes were kept on the passageways of elephants,” Saxena said.

Further, with the help of night-vision cameras, officials said they have captured key footage of elephants’ behaviour on seeing the bee-boxes, which can be beneficial for the expansion of the project.

Most human fatalities due to human-elephant conflict, according to KVIC, took place in West Bengal (403), Orissa (397), Jharkhand (349), Assam (332), and Chhattisgarh (289) between 2014 and 2019.

Saxena said state governments dig up trenches, erect rail-fencing and spiked pillars, install electric fences and electric wire curtains to keep elephants away from human territories. “While these efforts fail to achieve the purpose, they also end up killing elephants in the most tragic ways,” he highlighted.

Owing to the success of the pilot, more farmers, including coffee planters in and around Kodagu, have approached KVIC with a request to install such fences in more areas.

“Farmers in the area were not aware that such a technique would work well initially. However, with the sudden dip in the frequency of elephants entering the area, this initiative has become the talk of the town. We are ready to share the science behind this with more people to help them develop this on their own as well,” Banglu Venugopal, KVIC Nodal Officer in Madikeri, told Indianexpress.com.

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