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Bees that expel elephants
BREDA - Expelling elephants that destroy Sri Lankan agricultural areas with bees. That is the goal of a project involving two people from Breda. A delegation would leave for the Asian country earlier this month. But a negative travel advice after the Easter attacks changed the plans for the time being.
“It is dramatic what happened in Sri Lanka,” says Egbert Hendriks, founder of charity foundation Sampath, who initiates and finances projects to improve the living conditions of the poorest people in Sri Lanka.
“I was really shocked. You must remember that until ten years ago the country was embroiled in a bloody civil war. Sri Lanka has recovered in recent years. Things are much better now, tourism is increasing. These attacks throw the country back in one fell swoop. The poorer population in particular will be impacted. There was already hardly any money for them, that will only decrease.”
‘With these attacks, the country is thrown back in one fell swoop’ - Egbert Hendriks
The Sampath foundation is involved in microfinance and mainly supports poor farmers in the country. “We also do quite a few social and educational projects,” says Hendriks. Climate change has caused many farmers to suffer from drought on their land. “It’s raining at the wrong times or it’s not raining. Therefore, we looked at growing other products, such as millet, for which much less water is needed, and our organisation helps the farmers with that.”
But there is a problem. The area where Sampath is active – Wellawaya and Tanamalwila – in southeastern Sri Lanka, is also a jungle area. It has a large elephant population. “Those elephants are a major problem. These animals regularly destroy the entire fields of farmers. With that, they lose their income in one fell swoop, while they have taken out credit to finance the harvest.”
The elephant problem is big in Sri Lanka. It is a protected animal species, but every year between 150 and 200 elephants are killed because they destroy harvests. Around 60 to 80 people are killed by elephants every year.
Hendriks came in contact with the beekeeper Janus Fleerakkers from Breda. He is retired and affiliated with PUM, an organisation that uses experts, as volunteers in various fields. Fleerakkers has been in dozens of (developing) countries in recent years.
Fleerakkers: “The bees have brought me all over the world. Africa, Latin America, the Philippines, and so on. A few times a year, I go on a mission and help farmers become beekeepers. Beekeeping can be a solution for many people in poor countries. This is because the investment that a farmer has to make is relatively low, while the yield is high. Beeswax and honey provide a lot of money for those people.”
In Africa, Fleerakkers saw the problems that elephants can cause. “Elephants withdrew a complete harvest from the land and destroyed it in one night.”
The Breda beekeeper discovered that elephants are in awe of bees. “They have great respect for the bees. We have constructed a sort of chain of hives around a field, with a thin line between the cabinets. Elephants run into it, after which the bees come out of their hives and attack. Entire swarms become aggressive and sting the elephants in their noses and ears. Places that are very sensitive, and then they try to get away as quick as they can. They do not come back afterwards, they are smart enough for that.”
‘Entire bee swarms become aggressive and sting the elephants in their noses and ears’ - Janus Fleerakkers
Fleerakkers is now going to use the method to dislodge elephants without the use of a rifle in Sri Lanka, at the invitation of the Sampath foundation. Together with a fellow beekeeper from Drenthe, Fleerakkers will be training fifty farmers to become beekeepers. He will also roll out the technology he has used in Africa to chase away elephants in Sri Lanka.
They would leave for Sri Lanka on Saturday 4 May, but the situation in the country is so unhinged that the Ministry of Foreign Affairs issued a negative travel advice last week. A big setback. But Fleerakkers is positive. “Our departure for Sri Lanka is now scheduled for the end of May.”