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Niassa Beehive Project

Taronga is helping local African farmers to use the wild elephant’s natural fear of bees to protect crops. Hundreds of farms are affected by elephant crop raids which destroy farmer’s livelihoods, causing deaths and injury of both farmers and elephants.

“Taronga is working with the Niassa Carnivore Project, to develop an innovative natural barrier to protect both the elephants and the communities.” said Dr Rebecca Spindler, Manager of Research at Taronga. 

A Taronga Foundation Field Conservation Grant is funding efforts to reduce the Human-Elephant conflict in the Niassa Reserve region in Mozambique to develop new methods of keeping elephants away from crops using fences incorporating the elephant’s natural enemy - bees.

Rebecca said “When an elephant hears the sound of bees it will shake its head as if trying to get the bees out of its ears and its eyes. Elephants have a very tough hide, but the bees can still really cause severe pain to sensitive organs and really harm young calves.

“Through research with the University of Melbourne on our own elephants we discovered that the sound of Asian hornets being played caused avoidance behaviour in the Asian elephants at Taronga Western Plains Zoo.”

New findings from Oxford University also show there are specific warnings in elephant’s secret infrasound language for ‘humans” and ‘bees’. Infrasound is a low-frequency sound that is under the normal limit of human hearing and is used by elephants to communicate over long distances.

“So not only do elephants recognise the Asian Hornets and the bee noises, they transfer that alarm call from one elephant to another by telling each other about the bees through infrasound.”

Taronga’s elephant herd also communicates in this secret language. Elephant Manager, Gary Miller, said “Normally people don’t hear elephants talking very much but with a herd this size there is communication going on all the time.

“Our bull, Gung prefers to live by himself most of the time but he and the female elephants talk back and forth over the Zoo all the time using infrasonic,” says Gary. “You don’t even hear Gung talking but all of a sudden the girls will run to the front of the exhibit and they’ll look, and their ears are out and pretty soon one of them will rumble back to him.”

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