Buoyed by the success of its innovative Project RE-HAB (Reducing Elephant-Human Attacks using Bees) in Karnataka, Khadi and Village Industries Commission (KVIC) has now replicated the project in Assam. On Friday, Chairman KVIC, Shri Vinai Kumar Saxena launched Project RE-HAB at Village Mornoi in Goalpara district of Assam which severely grapples with elephant-human conflicts. The project has been implemented in Assam with the support of the local forest department. Surrounded by dense forests, a large part of Assam is infested by elephants with 332 human deaths reported between 2014 and 2019 due to elephant attacks.
Under Project RE-HAB, “Bee-fences” are created by setting up bee boxes in the passage ways of elephants to block their entrance to human territories. The boxes are connected with a string so that when elephants attempt to pass through, a tug or pull causes the bees to swarm the elephant herds and dissuade them from progressing further. It is a cost-effective way of reducing human-wild conflicts without causing any harm to the animals. It is scientifically recorded that elephants are annoyed by the honey bees. Elephants also fear that the bee swarms can bite their sensitive inner side of the trunk and eyes. The collective buzz of the bees is annoying to elephants that force them to return.
A total of 330 interspersed bee boxes will be placed at Mornoi and Dahikata villages in a week’s time to ward off elephants. These bee boxes have been given to 33 farmers and educated youths of these villages by KVIC whose families have affected by elephants. Crop-raiding by elephants in these villages are reported almost every day for 9 to 10 months a year. The elephant menace here is so severe that villagers, over the last few years, had stopped cultivating their farms fearing elephant attacks. These villages have abundant production of paddy, litchi and jackfruit that attract elephants. High resolution, night vision cameras have been installed at strategic points to record the impact of bees on elephants and their behaviour in these zones.
Chairman KVIC said Project RE-HAB would prove to be a sustainable solution to the human-elephant conflicts that are very common in Assam. “Project RE-HAB has been a great success in Karnataka and so it has been launched in Assam with greater efficiency and better technical knowhow. I am hopeful that the project would contain elephant attacks in coming months and bring the local villagers back to their farms. At the same time, the bee boxes distributed by KVIC to these farmers will add to their income through beekeeping,” Saxena said. KVIC’S North East zone member Duyo tamo was also present.
Notably, Project RE-HAB is a sub-mission of KVIC’s National Honey Mission. While the Honey Mission is a programme to increase the bee population, honey production and beekeepers’ income by setting up apiaries, Project RE-HAB uses bee boxes as a fence to prevent the elephant attacks.
Project RE-HAB was launched at 11 locations in Kodagu district of Karnataka on 15th March 2021. In just 6 months, this project has reduced elephant attacks by over 70%.
Nearly 500 people die every year due to elephant attacks in India. This is nearly 10 times more than the fatalities caused by big cats across the country. From 2015 to 2020, nearly 2500 people have lost their lives in elephant attacks. On the contrary, nearly one-fifth of this number, i.e. nearly 500 elephants have also died in retaliation by humans in the last 5 years.
In the past, governments have spent crores of rupees on digging up trenches and erecting fences to dissuade elephants. Also hundreds of crores of rupees have been spent on compensation for loss of human lives. These trenches and barbed wire fences have often caused the deaths of elephant calves and thus rendering these ideas largely impractical.