Sunset Over the Tree of Life at Disney's Animal Kingdom

Wildlife Wednesdays: Heard the Buzz? Disney’s Animal Kingdom Scientists, Educators are Helping People and Elephants, with an Assist from an Unlikely Source—Bees

posted on June 13th, 2012 by Joseph Soltis, Ph.D., Research Scientist, Disney’s Animal Programs


I’m excited to be a part of a special conservation program in Kenya, where Disney scientists and educators are partnering with the conservation group Save the Elephants to protect elephants and help people, with assistance from an unlikely source: bees.
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It all started a number of years ago with the idea that elephants may be afraid of bees, and the conception of the “beehive fence,” which could be a useful tool to stop crop-raiding elephants.

Together with Save the Elephants, we conducted a series of audio playback experiments, showing that elephants are indeed afraid of bees, and that the elephants produce a special alarm call which warns nearby elephants of the danger. Although elephants’ skin is pretty thick, they also have sensitive parts that bees can sting, such as the ears and eyes and inside their trunks, so there is nothing the elephants can do but run away.

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Since then, Save the Elephants has constructed beehive fences that have successfully deterred crop-raiding elephants. Not only that, the local farmers can harvest honey and consume or sell it at local markets. So it’s a win-win situation for elephants and human families. A fellow scientist here at Disney’s Animal Kingdom, Anne Savage, shared some information on this project on the Disney Parks Blog a couple of years ago, and the project has been progressing, so I wanted to provide an update for my first blog post.

We are continuing to work to reduce human conflict with crop-raiding elephants by offering non-violent alternatives to stop the elephants from destroying people’s farms. At the same time, we’re helping children and families form a stronger connection to wildlife. In this way, we can ensure a future for people and elephants in northern Kenya.

Recently, we have been stepping up our efforts in the area of education, thanks to the partnership of the Disney’s Animal Programs Education Team at Disney’s Animal Kingdom. This work includes integrating conservation messages into the local school curriculum, and engaging children in outdoor activities that teach methods to reduce conflict with wildlife.
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Of course, children love to play, and playing is a fantastic way to learn. So in addition to benefiting from classroom offerings, kids are learning about the importance of conservation by playing a variety of education-based games. One of these is the endangered species game — a twist on “musical chairs.” In the game, each child gets to be a different animal. As threats to wildlife increase, there are fewer and fewer hoops for the kids to jump into — but as people develop ways to reduce those threats, such as building beehive fences, the number of hoops increases. The kids have a great time and learn that they have the power to help wildlife.

The educational program is part of a broader effort to transform the community from an elephant poaching hotspot to a conservation conservancy. This way, people both protect and benefit from the amazing wildlife — including the magnificent elephants — that shares their world.

The next time you visit Disney’s Animal Kingdom, be sure to stop by Conservation Station in Rafiki’s Planet Watch, where you might find me in the Wildlife Tracking Center and can certainly learn more about our elephant conservation work as well as many other projects.

Check out these posts to read more about Disney’s conservation efforts:

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2 Comments

1

Skip from FL on June 13th, 2012 at 10:00 pm

Welcome to the blog Dr. Joseph!

2

Clayton on June 14th, 2012 at 12:49 pm

Why doesn’t animal kingdom have any bears, orangutans, or chimps?
All good zoos have them.

2 Comments