Elephants can cause havoc to farm land. Now an organic formulation containing honey bee pheromones has been found to safely repel elephants, offering promise for a new strategy to prevent the world’s largest land animals from destroying crops or causing other damage in areas where humans conflict with elephants.
A study was conducted at Greater Kruger National Park in South Africa between December 2017 and February 2018. The scientists placed a blend of alarm pheromones that bees release when they perceive danger in a specialized slow-release matrix at locations around water holes frequented by African bush elephants, Loxodonta africana. The researchers observed that most of the elephants that came near the formulation showed typical signs of increased alertness, signs of uncertainty, and finally calmly moved away, while those approaching control treatments were eager to investigate the foreign object in their environment. The pheromones were dispensed in white socks weighed down with rocks and hung from broken tree branches no more than a meter off the ground.
At the park’s Jejane waterhole, 25 of 29 elephants that approached the pheromone-laden socks moved away after getting close enough to smell the formulation. In the same timeframe, control experiments found that all elephants ignored similar looking suspended socks that did not contain the pheromone mix, or they would approach the controls and pick them up, and even try to taste them in some cases.
“Our results complement previous studies that have demonstrated that active bee hives can deter elephants from crops for example, but may be difficult to implement on a large scale. We hope to expand this work to develop additional tools for sustainable passive management of elephant movements, to augment the current approaches used,” said Mark G. Wright, the lead author of the study and a professor of entomology at the Department of Plant and Environmental Protection Sciences at the University of Hawaii at Mānoa.
This study breaks new ground by showing that synthetic pheromones have the potential to safely manage a large mammal species. The need for safe elephant management strategies has become more pressing as human populations have grown in ….