We've figured out how to solve human-elephant conflict. It takes bees. Lots of bees.

What does a 14,000-pound elephant eat? Whatever the elephant wants.

ELEPHANT DEMANDS COOKIES. Photo by Cameron Spencer/Getty Images.


For those of us in North America, that might sound like the setup to a joke. But for farmers in Africa, it's a real problem.

A fully grown elephant can eat up to 600 pounds of food a day. During a long, hot day of walking around the savannah, a farmer's crop might look like the perfect place for an elephant to rest and refuel.

But an elephant can easily eat everything the farmer has spent the last year growing. And fences — even electric ones — don't always work.

This leaves farmers with very few options.

Sometimes they'll try to scare the elephants away with firecrackers or guns. Sometimes they'll directly attack the elephants.

Both people and elephants have been killed in these conflicts.

But there is a new kind of fence that could dramatically change the relationship between farmers and elephants, and it's filled with bees.

Dr. Lucy King and one of her beehives. Photo by Elephants and Bees Project, used with permission.

Dr. Lucy King and her team at the Elephants and Bees Project have been working on this fence since 2006.

The idea comes from an interesting observation: Elephants really, really do not like beehives.

That's because although elephant hides can be very thick in places, bee stings can still hurt, especially around the face and trunk. Elephants won't even eat from trees that have beehives in them.

Photo by Peter Macdiarmid/Getty Images.

Local Africans have known that for a while, but when King learned this from her adviser in the mid-2000s (while she was a graduate student), she was intrigued. She travelled to Kenya to learn more about the behavior.

First, King and her colleagues set up tests to see what it was about the bees that was scaring the elephants away. She discovered that just playing the sound of an angry beehive is enough to drive elephants away. There's even a special elephant rumble to warn each other of swarms!

Then one day, King had an "aha" moment under an acacia tree.

It was a hot day and a family of elephants was resting nearby, unaware of a beehive hidden in the acacia tree. Watching the elephants, King's assistant picked up a rock and dinged the beehive with it, sending the elephants — and the researchers — scrambling.

"The alarmed elephant family took off immediately at a run along the river bank kicking up dust until they were out of sight," King said in an email. "We watched the activity in awe until the bees turned their attention to us and I had to drive off at pace to avoid being badly stung."

Watching the beehive swing back and forth on the branch while elephants thundered away gave King the inspiration for her beehive fence design.

The fences act like giant buzzing trip wires.

Photo by Elephants and Bees Project, used with permission.

The free-swinging beehives are strung up on poles all around a farm. If an elephant touches one (or if it touches one of the long wires that runs between the poles), the beehives will start to bounce and swing. This irritates the bees, which then come out in full force and drive the elephants away from the farmer's crops.

These fences are already being used in at least 11 countries across Africa and Asia.

The idea was so successful that King now runs the Elephants and Bees Project, which has partnered with the nonprofit Save the Elephants, Oxford University, and Disney's Animal Kingdom. The Elephants and Bees Project even has its own research center in Sagalla, Kenya.

Photo by Elephants and Bees Project, used with permission.

"We regularly host visitor training days [at the research center] to help other project sites and communities learn how to build beehive fences so they can go back to their own sites and initiate the projects for themselves," King said. They have new crops of researchers and graduate students coming to them too.

They've even put out a Beehive Fence Construction Manual, which is free to download.

The beehive fences aren't perfect — King says a few sneaky and fearless elephants will still get into the crops every once in a while.

But among the communities she's worked with, human-elephant conflicts have fallen 80%. The Elephants and Bees Project is now collaborating with sites all over Africa and Asia to help them construct their own beehive fences.

King is still working with people in Kenya to improve the idea as well. They've been experimenting with mixing "dummy" beehives into the fence to reduce costs. They're also expanding a honey-processing facility.

But this is a win-win solution, as both the farmers and the elephants benefit from it.

The farmers get to keep their crops, which the bees also help pollinate. The farmers can also benefit from beekeeping products such as honey or beeswax, which they can sell to help offset the cost of the fence or use in their own households.

Photo by Elephants and Bees Project, used with permission.

The elephants, meanwhile, benefit from the happy coexistence with humans and increased safety.

"Communities typically don't want trouble," King said. "Only if they are really getting desperate will they want to kill an elephant for crop-raiding."

This is great news because it could potentially alleviate one of the many pressures on elephant populations these days.

Plus, clever ideas like this show how listening to local knowledge, combined with careful observation and study, can lead to effective solutions to real problems.

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The past year has changed the way a lot of people see the world and brought the importance of global change to the forefront. However, even social impact entrepreneurs have had to adapt to the changing circumstances brought on by the Coronavirus pandemic.

"The first barrier is lack of funding. COVID-19 has deeply impacted many of our supporters, and we presume it will continue to do so. Current market volatility has caused many of our supporters to scale back or withdraw their support altogether," said Brisa de Angulo, co-founder of A Breeze of Hope Foundation, a non-profit that prevents childhood sexual violence in Bolivia and winner of the 2020 Elevate Prize.

To help social entrepreneurs scale their impact for the second year in a row, The Elevate Prize is awarding $5 million to 10 innovators, activists, and problem–solvers who are making a difference in their communities every day.

"We want to see extraordinary people leading high-impact projects that are elevating opportunities for all people, elevating issues and their solutions, or elevating understanding of and between people," The Elevate Prize website states.

Founded in 2019 by entrepreneur and philanthropist Joseph Deitch, The Elevate Prize is dedicated to giving unsung social entrepreneurs the necessary resources to scale their impact and to ultimately help inspire and awaken the hero in all of us.

"The Elevate Prize remains committed to finding a radically diverse group of innovative problem solvers and investing unconventional and personalized resources that bring greater visibility to them as leaders and the vital work they do. We make good famous," said Carolina García Jayaram, executive director, Elevate Prize Foundation.

The application process will take place in two phases. Applicants have till May 5 for Phase 1, which will include a short written application. A select number of those applicants will then be chosen for Phase 2, which includes a more robust set of questions later this summer. Ten winners will be announced in October 2021.

In addition to money, winners will also receive support from The Elevate Prize to help amplify their mission, achieve their goals, and receive mentorship and industry connections.

Last year, 1,297 candidates applied for the prize.

The 10 winners include Simprints, a UK-based nonprofit implementing biometric solutions to give people in the developing world hope and access to a better healthcare system; ReThink, a patented, innovative app that detects offensive messages and gives users a chance to reconsider posting them; and Guitars Over Guns, an organization bridging the opportunity gap for youth from vulnerable communities through transformational access to music, connectivity, and self-empowerment.

You can learn more about last year's winners, here.

If you know of someone or you yourself are ready to scale your impact, apply here today.

Maybe it's because I'm a writer, but I'm a bit of a pen snob. Even if I'm just making a list, I look for a pen that grips well, flows well, doesn't put too much or too little ink into the paper, is responsive-but-not-too-responsive to pressure, and doesn't suddenly stop working mid-stroke.

In other words, the average cheap ballpoint pen is out. (See? Snob.)

However, Oscar Ukono is making me reevaluate my pen snobbery. Because while I'm over here turning up my nose at the basic Bic, he's using them to create things like this:

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Images courtesy of John Scully, Walden University, Ingrid Scully
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Since March of 2020, over 29 million Americans have been diagnosed with COVID-19, according to the CDC. Over 540,000 have died in the United States as this unprecedented pandemic has swept the globe. And yet, by the end of 2020, it looked like science was winning: vaccines had been developed.

In celebration of the power of science we spoke to three people: an individual, a medical provider, and a vaccine scientist about how vaccines have impacted them throughout their lives. Here are their answers:

John Scully, 79, resident of Florida

Photo courtesy of John Scully

When John Scully was born, America was in the midst of an epidemic: tens of thousands of children in the United States were falling ill with paralytic poliomyelitis — otherwise known as polio, a disease that attacks the central nervous system and often leaves its victims partially or fully paralyzed.

"As kids, we were all afraid of getting polio," he says, "because if you got polio, you could end up in the dreaded iron lung and we were all terrified of those." Iron lungs were respirators that enclosed most of a person's body; people with severe cases often would end up in these respirators as they fought for their lives.

John remembers going to see matinee showings of cowboy movies on Saturdays and, before the movie, shorts would run. "Usually they showed the news," he says, "but I just remember seeing this one clip warning us about polio and it just showed all these kids in iron lungs." If kids survived the iron lung, they'd often come back to school on crutches, in leg braces, or in wheelchairs.

"We all tried to be really careful in the summer — or, as we called it back then, 'polio season,''" John says. This was because every year around Memorial Day, major outbreaks would begin to emerge and they'd spike sometime around August. People weren't really sure how the disease spread at the time, but many believed it traveled through the water. There was no cure — and every child was susceptible to getting sick with it.

"We couldn't swim in hot weather," he remembers, "and the municipal outdoor pool would close down in August."

Then, in 1954 clinical trials began for Dr. Jonas Salk's vaccine against polio and within a year, his vaccine was announced safe. "I got that vaccine at school," John says. Within two years, U.S. polio cases had dropped 85-95 percent — even before a second vaccine was developed by Dr. Albert Sabin in the 1960s. "I remember how much better things got after the vaccines came out. They changed everything," John says.

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