Can honeybee alarm pheromones be used to deter elephants and reduce human-elephant conflicts?

Raised of $5,000 Goal
Ended on 6/15/19
Campaign Ended
  • $57
  • 2%
  • Finished
    on 6/15/19

About This Project

African elephants damage crops if they breach park boundaries or threaten human life. Elephant-human conflict results. Development of passive, non-destructive elephant movement tools is important. Honeybee colonies deter elephants, but using large numbers of beehives to deter elephants from large large areas poses logistic issues. We hypothesize that honeybee alarm pheromones can be used to deter elephants from the treated area.

Ask the Scientists

Join The Discussion

What is the context of this research?

Human-Elephant conflict situations, such as crop raiding, can be reduced using active beehives which deter elephants from breaching fences. Elephants are adverse to being stung on the ears, around the eyes and in the trunk, and are very effectively repelled by bees. Deploying large numbers of beehives is problematic though, for logistic reasons, as bee-care during dry periods involves high maintenance. We will contribute to developing passive means of preventing elephants from straying where they have negative interactions with humans using bee alarm chemicals as deterrents. We have demonstrated African elephant repellence from a prototype bee alarm pheromone blend. We seek to expand the project to examine improved pheromone blends, and field deployment methods for optimal effect.

What is the significance of this project?

Elephants are often killed or otherwise negatively impacted when they interact negatively with humans. Elephant impacts of human activities such as farming can be extremely detrimental and life threatening to the farmers. Our project will contribute to developing an integrated approach to preventing elephant impacts, and will decrease human-elephant conflicts. Throughout the project, the elephants will be subjected to stimuli that occur naturally in their environment, that produce a deterrence response. Developing an effective new option for augmenting existing methods for elephant movement management will ultimately contribute to improved elephant welfare, enhanced livelihoods of farmers (often subsistence farmers), and improved elephant conservation.

What are the goals of the project?

We hypothesize that honeybee alarm pheromones can be used to deter elephants from the treated area. We will optimize prototype pheromone blends for field use, conducting field trials on refined SPLAT blends of alarm pheromone components. Field weathering and durability of the formulated deterrents will be measured under field conditions. Elution rate of compounds in the blend will be quantified. Distance at which detection and repellence occurs will be quantified. Direct observation and camera traps will be used to collect data.
We also include an educational component for local communities (in Africa) in the project. This funding effort seeks to raise funds to address the optimization of pheromone blends, and preliminary studies on field deployment.


Please wait...

These funds will cover part of the costs, further funding from other sources (e.g. Eva Crane Trust) and future grants will be used to cover costs

Experimental semiochemical blends are central to the progress of the project. Reagents for series dilutions of concentrations in blends will be procured; blends made with SPLAT matrix; mixed product (up to 10kg per batch) needs to be shipped from California, USA, to South Africa

Field equipment: includes items such as camera traps (twenty @ approx $150 ea are required at this stage) for field monitoring of experiments. In addition, consumables such as batteries for camera traps, memory cards, must be purchased

Travel: funds will be used to contribute to PI travel to the study site (Return airline travel @$1,900). Multiple trips will be made, some costs covered by other donors, or PIs travel funds

Endorsed by

Honeybee biology provides fascinating potential solutions for mitigating human-elephant conflict. Having worked closely with Professor Wright and Mr Spencer in the past, I believe that they have the correct experience to tackle this research question. Additionally, the input from Dr Henley on elephant behaviour will be vital for this research to progress. Having worked on elephant-honeybee research myself, this is an important research step going forward.

Flag iconProject Timeline

We'll specifically be investigating and refining the pheromone blend and optimal dosage with these funds, and also determining how close the animals need to approach treatments to detect them and be repelled. We'll do the first of these trials during 2019 and 2020, but maybe it will take longer. Field work is unpredictable sometimes.

There are a bunch of other aspects that need to be investigated of course, before this method can be implemented. That's why we list stuff we'll do into 2020.

May 16, 2019

Project Launched

Dec 30, 2019

Refine blend and dosage of alarm pheromones

Mar 30, 2020

Determine optimal repellence distance

Dec 30, 2020

Test deterrence from indigenous trees, effectiveness in protecting fences

Jul 01, 2021

Provide copies of published work to backers; send links to media items to appraise backers of progress and achievements.

Meet the Team

Mark G Wright
Mark G Wright


University of Hawaii at Manoa
View Profile
Craig Spencer
Craig Spencer
Executive Director: Transfrontier Africa NPC


Balule Nature Reserve
View Profile

Team Bio

The research team on this project includes Mark Wright (University of Hawaii), Agenor Mafra-Neto (ISCA Technologies), Craig Spencer (Balule Nature Reserve), and Michelle Henley (Save the Elephants).

Mark G Wright

I have worked extensively in invasive insect management using various biological approaches including semiochemical technology, specifically repellants for some of the most severe insect pests of crops, and the role of semiochemicals in host-location and mating behaviors in biological control agents. I've contributed to research on conservation of insects in South Africa and internationally, through work on biodiversity patterns, insect-plant interactions and safety assessments for biological control of invasive species. I teach insect ecology, biological control, and conservation biology. I initiated the work on honeybee alarm pheromones as potential African elephant management tools and conducted the preliminary field trials upon which this proposal is based.

Publication relevant to this proposal: Wright, M.G., Spencer, C.R., Cook, R.M., Henley, M.D., North, W. & Mafra-Neto, A. 2018. African bush elephants response to a honeybee alarm semiochemical blend. Current Biology 28: R778-780.

in total, I have published 107 peer-reviewed papers and book chapters on invasive species management, insect ecology, and conservation biology.

Craig Spencer

I was appointed as the Head Warden of Balule Nature Reserve, and served as Head Warden of the Association of Private Nature Reserves until August 2018.

During the past three and a half years, I have focused most of my efforts on strengthening partnerships with the adjacent tribal communities and seeking new technologies and partnerships to solve the illegal wildlife trade.

I am the founder of the The Black Mamba initiative, which employs 36 young women from the local tribal communities and was recognized as the “Best Rhino Conservation Practitioner” in Johannesburg in 2015 (Game Rangers Association of Southern Africa), as well as the UNEP “Champions of the Earth” in 2015.

Tother with the Black Mambas, we have since been invited to present our conservation model in various countries and in various media, including The Hague (European Union) in 2015, Cop 17 (Various audiences) 2016, INTERPOL Wildlife Crime Committee in 2016+2018, Rhino Lab in Johannesburg in 2016, Conservation Lab in 2016 and 2017, New York City at the United Nations Environmental Program in 2015, New York City Explorers Club and Empowers Africa in 2017 and London International Rhino Day in 2016, and recently at the UNDP “Lions Share” conference in France and a congressional committee hearing in Washington DC USA.

Lab Notes

Nothing posted yet.

Project Backers

  • 5Backers
  • 2%Funded
  • $57Total Donations
  • $11.40Average Donation
Please wait...