To stop wild elephants from rampaging through their produce, farmers in Thailand put up electric fences, set off firecrackers and even switched their crops 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 defence, 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.
There are an estimated 3,000 wild elephants in Thailand, according to the Thai Elephant Conservation Center. And as farmers push into forests for agriculture, elephants have been forced to venture out of their shrinking habitats in search of food.
"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 10-wheeled truck can drive through after they had gone."
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 beehives are placed on the ground, but here researchers raise them on stilts, putting them at eye level for the elephants.
Beehive 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.
The downside of the project is that it is not feasible on large farms because that would require thousands of beehive boxes, which would prove to be expensive. Each box has about 10,000 bees and costs 4,000 baht ($115). But it is a good solution for small farms, and for people like Boonchu who want to protect their homes, which can be ring-fenced by beehives.