A behavioural discovery that honey bees can be used as a natural deterrent to crop-raiding elephants led to the formation of 'Elephants and Bees'. This unique project addresses the delicate balance between the farmers of Kenya and the elephants which are not confined to national parks and reserves.
Simple and cheaply-made beehive fences were installed to deter the elephants in an ethical and socially appropriate manner. This fascinating work was rewarded at the St Andrews Prize for the Environment 2013 where, now Head of the Human-Elephant Co-Existence Program for Save the Elephants, Lucy King picked up the Prize. We spoke to Lucy recently about the project and how things have evolved in the last five years.
How did you feel when you found out you were a finalist for the St Andrews Prize for the Environment?
"I was absolutely blown away. I almost didn't apply as I thought I wouldn't have a chance but when I heard I had been selected for the final three, I leapt for joy and my team at Save the Elephants was so thrilled for me. Everyone helped me with support on the project while I was away and plans to get to the UK for the big event."
And how did it feel to actually win?
"I really couldn't believe that it was happening! I so enjoyed hearing the stories of the other finalists I was with and half of me wished we could ALL win as their ideas were brilliant too. I realised learning more about all the finalists over the years that we are all winners and its fresh ideas and fresh minds looking at the challenges of our times that are going to make all the difference to the world. We can't just leave it up to politicians to sort out the challenges in our world. It really gave me confidence in what I was doing, sometimes we work in real isolation and we don't realise that our story can be inspiring for others until we share our experiences with a wider audience. The Prize gave me a platform to talk to others with confidence."
What benefits have you experienced from being involved in the Prize?
"I have felt supported and part of a bigger family of winners and it has added some significant prestige to my project. I often quote the Prize in my funding applications and I have no doubt that being recognised by the Prize has helped donors feel reassured that my project is worth supporting."
How has the Elephants and Bees project developed since winning the Prize and have any significant milestones been achieved?
"It's unrecognisable from before I won the Prize. The significance of the Prize is that it feels like a "freedom fund" that we have at hand to dream big and not be restricted by the limits of small grant applications. I was able to build my research center, start a project in Sri Lanka, complete a study understanding how Asian elephants react to bees, and fund a Kenyan post doc with my grant to look at pollination benefits of our beehive fences, and SO much more too! I stretched the funds to two years of support for my project."
What’s next for the project?
"We have just launched our Elephants and Bees Mobile Unit which is taking my beehive fence ideas to more locations suffering from human-elephant conflict in Kenya. I have also been working very hard on communication, education and outreach training. SO much so that beehive fences are now found in over 40 sites and 16 countries in Africa and Asia. It turns out that bees really DO keep elephants out of farms. It actually works!"
Finally, what advice would you give to those considering entering?
"Don't hesitate to enter if you think you have a great idea and project that is worth expanding. But if you don't think you are quite ready yet, watch and read about all past applications and winners and take some inspiration from them into your own project plans to push yourself and your team that little bit further to try to make a difference in this crazy world. You will instinctively know when you are at the right stage in your project and ready to apply for the St Andrews Prize for the Environment. It's a big deal to win the Prize and you need to have your aspirations for the prize money sorted out before you apply."
Find out more about Elephants and Bees through their project page.