Posts Tagged ‘conservation biologist’

Guardian Bees Protect Kenyan Crops from Roaming Elephants

July 14th, 2011 07:12 admin View Comments

spacing is important

What’s the News: We’ve all probably heard the myth, made popular by Disney’s Dumbo, that elephants are afraid of mice. While that idea may not be exactly true (video), elephants do make sure to avoid another tiny critter: bees. Knowing this, zoologists from the University of Oxford loaded fences in Kenya with beehives, in hopes of deterring roaming African elephants from eating or trampling farmers’ crops. Now, two years later, the researchers are reporting in the African Journal of Ecology that the novel barriers are working wondrously and could be a viable option for protecting African croplands.

What’s the Context:

  • Oxford zoologist Lucy King first learned in 2007 that honeybees—and even just the recorded sound of their buzzing—can scare off African elephants. Although a bee stinger cannot penetrate an elephant’s thick skin, elephants learn to avoid bees because the little insects gravitate toward their eyes and the insides of their trunks. Elephants will even sound a low-frequency alarm call when they encounter bees, causing other nearby elephants to back away, too.
  • Since the U.N. banned international ivory trade in 1989, the population of the endangered African elephant has slowly made a comeback in Kenya. But the animals will often stumble upon farmland, leading to sometimes deadly conflicts with humans: a few dozen elephants and people die each year from their clashes (via Wired).
  • Researchers have tried other types of barriers, such as thorn bushes or rows of capsicum chili peppers (whose smell elephants can’t stand), but those defenses haven’t really worked, according to conservation biologist Dave Balfour.

How the Heck:

  • King and her colleagues chose a region in Kenya that often suffers from human-elephant conflicts. With the help of the local Turkana community, they built beehive fences around 17 farms and thorn-bush barriers around 17 other farms. In over two years, elephants tried to invade the farms 45 times; they successfully broke through the thorn-bush barriers 31 times, but breached the beehive fences only once.
  • Along with protected croplands, the farmers have gained extra income by selling honey. The honey money allows them to purchase new clothes and additional food.

(via Wired)

Image: Wikimedia Commons/Hans Hillewaert

Source: Guardian Bees Protect Kenyan Crops from Roaming Elephants

California’s Bald Eagles Are Back! Now for the Bad News.

May 4th, 2010 05:53 admin View Comments

bald-eagleThe comeback of the bald eagle has been one of America’s great environmental success stories. The mighty eagles nearly vanished from the continental United States in the 1970s due to habitat loss, hunting, and use of the pesticide DDT, which thins the birds’ eggshells. But bald eagle populations have rebounded in the decades since the federal government banned DDT and put strict protections in place, leading conservationists to reintroduce the eagles to historic habitats, like Southern California’s Channel Islands. But a new study in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences suggests that the story’s happy ending may be more complicated than expected.

Conservation biologist Seth Newsome of the University of Wyoming reconstructed the eating habits of the bald eagles who lived on the islands until the late 1960s by analyzing old bones and feathers. He found evidence that resurgent eagles on the Channel Island may threaten another endangered species.

The data reveal that when marine resources of food, such as fish, weren’t available, eagles readily adapted to terrestrial alternatives. In the past, that meant eating carrion from sheep and pigs, but ranching no longer takes place on the island. Enter the endangered island foxes, who’ve seen their numbers decline due to a combination of habitat destruction and, since the 1990s, predation by golden eagles [ScienceNOW].

And if the eagles turn to seal and sea lion carcasses that wash up on the island beaches, there’s another problem. Wildlife biologist Peter Sharpe, who wasn’t involved in the study, explains:

“There is a concern,” Sharpe said. “We know that [the eagles] have always fed on dead marine animals. DDT and other contaminants are often stored in the blubber, which is most accessible to anything feeding on them” [National Geographic].

The study serves as an early warning for the conservationists working on the Channel Islands, but some experts say the concerns are overblown–noting that the bald eagles still prefer to feast on fish. However, everyone agrees that there’s a way to head off trouble while accomplishing another environmental goal. If the government clamps down on overfishing around the islands, the researchers say, the eagles will have plenty of fish to feed on and won’t have to go in search of more exotic meals.

Image: flickr / Alaskan Dude

Source: California’s Bald Eagles Are Back! Now for the Bad News.