Buzz boxes deter elephants

17 April 2023


How do you stop a hungry elephant from eating your crops? Unique footage, captured by Born Free’s partner ELRECO in Liberia, reveals a cost-effective and cruelty-free solution. Joe Hedges reports.

An elephant with its trunk raised in the air with grass in the foreground and misty background

Conflict between people and wildlife is a serious barrier to conservation so, finding novel, effective strategies to prevent conflict and alleviate the costs of living with wildlife is imperative across the globe.

Born Free’s partner, Elephant Research and Conservation (ELRECO), has captured rare footage of an elephant’s reaction to a Buzz Box – a novel human-elephant conflict mitigation strategy being trialled in the forests of Liberia.

Elephants are of course an iconic and loved animal around the globe but, for people living alongside them, they can be extremely problematic and potentially dangerous. As you can imagine, if an elephant breaks into a field to raid a farmer’s crop it can cause considerable tension between people and elephants.

Although simply exhibiting natural behaviours, elephants can be extremely destructive, devastating entire fields in a single night, having a serious economic impact on the livelihoods of farmers.

In response, farmers may understandably retaliate – disturbing, injuring and sometimes even killing elephants in response to crop-raiding.

This can be a significant barrier to elephant conservation. In response, Born Free, ELRECO and other organisations aiming to protect elephants, are implementing, low-cost, novel, effective yet humane strategies to address human-elephant conflict and enable coexistence.

Supported by Born Free since 2019, ELRECO focusses on studying and conserving the forest elephants of Liberia, home to an estimated 1,000 of these Critically Endangered elephants. ELRECO has trialled the use of a Buzz Box, developed by Wild Survivors with funding from Save the Elephants Elephant Crisis Fund.

This device is triggered if an elephant moves through the undergrowth and emits a tech-generated sound of agitated bees. Elephants display a natural fear response to bees, probably due to previous experience of the painful stings bees can inflict around an elephants’ eyes, trunk and the thin skin behind their ears.

Incredibly, ELRECO have captured footage of the Buzz Box in action. The bull elephant in the video triggers the Buzz Box as he is foraging. You can watch as he hears the sound of agitated bees, stops immediately, quickly turns around and retreats back to the forest. It is extremely rare to capture such clear and visual evidence of conflict mitigation working in practice, especially with forest elephants which are elusive and difficult to see in the wild.

Through this video, ELRECO has provided evidence that Buzz Boxes are an effective strategy to humanely deter elephants away from farms, and could prove to be an incredibly useful tool to reduce human-elephant conflict across Africa.

“We were absolutely thrilled when we saw the footage,” said Dr Tina Vogt, technical director of ELRECO. “The chance to get this kind of scene is probably one in a million. Not only was the elephant in the centre of the film, but it was daylight and the Buzz Box trigger worked perfectly. The bull’s immediate action was amazing and, with human-elephant conflict so prevalent, it was encouraging to see him race away from the farmland.”

You can read more about the significance of this video from Save The Elephants, the organisation that pioneered the use of bees as a conflict mitigation tool.

The idea of the Buzz Box was inspired by Save the Elephants’ acclaimed beehive fence project, which has an 80% success of preventing elephants entering fields and raiding crops. Since its inception, beehive fences have been implemented in 23 countries throughout Africa and Asia.

Funded by supporters like you, Born Free has recently begun constructing beehive fences in Meru, using actual African honeybees as the deterrence and also providing an extra source of income from honey production.

With your help we can continue implementing innovative mitigation strategies to address human-elephant conflict so both people and wild animals can thrive together:

end wildlife conflict