Thai farmers launch sting operation to stop elephant raids

Pana, Aug 25 (AP) To stop wild elephants rampaging through their crops, farmers in Thailand put up electric fences, burst firecrackers and even switched their crop from pineapples to pumpkins, which the pachyderms don't relish much.

Nothing worked, so the villagers decided on Plan Bee.

In a pilot scheme run by the Thai Department of National Parks, farmers are deploying bees as a new line of defense, exploiting elephants' documented fear of bee stings.

The idea to play on the phobia came out of Oxford University research and has been used successfully for several years in Africa. It's now gaining a toehold in Asia.

The problem is quite severe in the eastern province of Chanthaburi, which has thick forests near farming communities that grow rice, cassava, pineapple and rubber.

"Starting two years ago, elephants have come and destroyed farmers' crops almost every day," said Prasit Sae-Lee, the head of the local administration.

"Elephants travel in a herd, a big herd, razing everything to the ground everywhere they go. The ground is flattened so much so that a ten-wheeled truck can drive through after they had gone."

Government officials suggested farmers stop growing pineapples that elephants love. "The latest suggestion is for us to grow pumpkins. But it didn't solve anything. They destroyed pumpkins. They pulled roots outs and stepped on them and even ate them," Prasit said.

Help for the residents of the remote Pana village came from a government wildlife research station, which is helping them raise bees. It's a simple technique. 

Traditionally bee hives are placed on the ground, but here researchers raise them on stilts, putting them at eye level for the elephants. The string of bee-hive boxes are connected with a rope to create a fence.

When the elephants try to enter, they push at the ropes and shake the beehives, causing the bees to swarm out in a fearsome cloud of buzz and venomous sting that the animals are unlikely to forget.

"At first I thought it would not work. Even the forestry officials did not think it would work," said Boonchu Sirimaha, 66, whose family became the first in the village to participate in the research project.

"But after we put the beehives up (two months ago), it worked. The elephants were stung by the bees and they have not been back since."

PTI