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Nature’s smallest guards

By Samara on March 26, 2020
Did you know that bees are a widely-used weapon in the conservation arsenal? These underestimated little miracle workers are being deployed at Samara, where they will play a vital role in protecting our key tree species.

How exactly does a bee stop, say, a hungry elephant from tearing down a tree? It’s simple, really: many animal species are known to avoid beehives because of the danger of being stung. This concept has been put to the test across Africa with great success: in 2016, Dr Lucy King erected a 400m beehive fence in Gazini, Kenya, to protect the community croplands from elephant invasions. This fence – the first of its kind – has been key to reducing human-wildlife conflict in the region.

It might seem like a strange concept, because a bee sting can’t do much to an elephant’s thick hide, but if those stings go into sensitive parts like the elephant’s trunk, eyes and mouth – well, that’s a different story, especially if there are hundreds of bees in a swarm.

At Samara, the practice will be used to protect iconic trees on the reserve from being toppled by elephant bulls and other wildlife. The first two beehives have been installed in Wolwekloof, where they will protect two beautiful Shepherd Trees or Witgatbome (Boscia oleiodes). One of these is a magnificent specimen, estimated to be around 800 years old and nicknamed ‘the Royal Tree’ by the Reserve Team. If you have been to Samara you have probably seen it next to the road on your way up to the Samara Mara – it’s difficult to miss!

At present, the hive boxes are out and awaiting colonisation by wild swarms of the African bee species, which is indigenous to the region. We expect each swarm to number between 33 000 and 40 000 bees. The population will comprise of the queen, the male drones which are responsible for breeding and the workers who guard the hive. As each hive grows too large, a new queen will emerge after fighting the reigning monarch, taking off with part of the swarm in hot pursuit to establish a new colony.

This initiative will help to increase the population of bees at Samara, which has suffered terribly in the recent drought, and contribute to worldwide efforts to save pollinators like bees. Reserve Manager Alan Feldon, who has extensive beekeeping experience, will be responsible for overseeing the progression of the project.

As an added benefit, we’re looking forward to producing our own honey from the hives. Although the Karoo is not naturally a high honey producing region, we expect to see around 10kg of honey produced from each hive every year, likely from the nectar of plants like the Spekboom (Portulacaria afra) and other indigenous flora. We look forward to sharing this locally-produced treat with our guests in our Karoo Kitchen and in our gift shop.

Samara Private Game Reserve is a luxury Big Five safari destination with a difference. Guests are invited behind the scenes of a passionate conservation journey to restore a unique South African wilderness. This genuine conservation participation combines with heartfelt Karoo hospitality and breathtaking landscapes to offer a safari that feeds the soul.

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