1. Agriculture World

Honey Bees to Prevent Elephants from Destroying crops in West Bengal

According to officials, the project's goal is to reduce man-elephant conflict in the area. West Bengal has the second-highest number of incidents of man-elephant conflict in the country, after Odisha. Elephants killed at least 430 people in West Bengal between 2015-16 and 2019-20. The majority of the fatalities occurred in north Bengal.

Shivam Dwivedi
Elephants in Cropfield
Elephants in Cropfield

Wild honey from the tiger-infested mangrove forests of West Bengal's Sunderbans is prized for its purity and therapeutic properties. However, honey would now be produced for the first time through apiaries in villages near the Buxa Tiger Reserve and Jaldapara National Park in north Bengal.

Jaldapara, located in the Himalayan foothills, is known for its elephants and rhinoceroses, and a tiger was recently spotted at Buxa after nearly two decades. Because of the region's ever-growing elephant population and fragmented forests, man-animal conflict is common.

"This is the first time that honey will be produced through apiculture by villagers living within and on the outskirts of Jaldapara and BTR," said Surendra Kumar Meena, Alipurduar's district magistrate. "We plan to produce around 10,000 kilos of honey in the first year, and then we'll scale it up."

According to officials, the project's goal is to reduce man-elephant conflict in the area. West Bengal has the second-highest number of incidents of man-elephant conflict in the country, after Odisha. Elephants killed at least 430 people in West Bengal between 2015-16 and 2019-20. The majority of the fatalities occurred in north Bengal.

With conservation efforts, the state's elephant population has increased from around 175 in 1989 to around 700 today. The elephant population in north Bengal exceeds 600.

"On the one hand, it would help generate alternative livelihood for the villagers while also discouraging them from going inside the forest, reducing chances of encounters with wild animals," said Parveen Kaswan, deputy field director of Buxa Tiger Reserve. "The beehives in the villages may also keep elephants away from the villages."

Reducing human interference in the tiger reserve may also help bring the big cats back. Although the prey base of tigers such as chital and sambar has been dwindling due to fading grasslands, human activity within the forest has also been cited as one of the reasons for the reserve's tigers' disappearance.

"Since a tiger was discovered in the BTR in December 2021, efforts have been made to expand the grasslands." But we also need to reduce human interference in the forest," a forester said. "Providing an alternative source of income in the form of apiculture may help us achieve this goal."

The district administration is funding the project, and the forest department is providing all necessary assistance. In the coming years, the district administration plans to establish an apiculture training centre where villagers will be taught how to scale up production.

"To begin with, we are providing approximately 600 boxes in the Jaldapara and BTR areas." The district administration has already contributed more than 2 crores. "A few thousand people would benefit," Meena said. "In a day or two, we plan to launch a brand to market the honey." It would initially be sold through stalls in the district and would later be available online as well."

Experts agreed that apiculture would provide local villagers with an alternative source of income, preventing them from entering the forest, but they disagreed about using honey bees to ward off elephants.

"Beehive fencing may work on a small scale, perhaps to save a few individual houses, but it will not work on a large scale, as previous experiences in Africa and Sri Lanka have shown," said Raman Sukumar, elephant expert and ecologist at the Indian Institute of Science in Bengaluru. "Elephants usually return through alternate routes to raid croplands." However, the effort will undoubtedly provide villagers with an alternative source of income and is a welcome measure."

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