Beehive destruction

Causes of Human Bear Conflict (HBC)

Beehives are an attractive, rich and relatively easily accessible food source for wild bears. In areas where humans farm honey bees, they run the risk of attracting bears. If no effective measures are taken to prevent bears feeding from and destroying beehives, they can develop a habit of feeding this way.

Traditional beehives, situated on the ground, are easy to access
Traditional beehives, situated on the ground, are easy to access © Ozgun Emre Can

Animal welfare implications

Wild bears can become accustomed to feeding from an agricultural food source. If this causes humans to become intolerant to their presence and activity, the animals are considered ‘conflict bears’. Hostile and/or ill informed human reactions towards bears can then ensue, resulting in the animal’s injury, death or a lifetime in captivity. These ad-hoc responses rarely achieve long-term solutions.

Bears that are not involved in the conflict can also be affected – government wildlife authorities may raise local hunting quotas based on the false assumption that an increase in ‘bear nuisance’ means there are unsustainable numbers of bears in the wild.

Read more about how HBC affects bears >>

WSPA’s project: Rize and Artvin, Turkey

In summary: Beekeeping is an important practice in the Black Sea region of Turkey, which encompasses the regions of Rize and Artvin. Turkey is the world’s fourth largest honey producer and these regions alone produce 18,500 tons of honey per year – almost a quarter of Turkey’s total production. Honey is one of the main income sources for many families and forms an important part of the local diet.

2006: In response to beehive destruction in Rize and Artvin and inhumane and unsustainable efforts to prevent it, WSPA worked with Nature Society for Turkey (Doğa Derneği) to implement an effective holistic project. The project had several other key stakeholders whose commitment was necessary: central and local wildlife authorities, relevant local authorities and the affected local community.

After an evaluation period, a selection of complementary non-lethal approaches were used to create a sustainable and holistic response to the HBC problem:

Human-focused interventions

Removal of attractants: The beekeepers were shown humane ways to prevent bears accessing the hives; these were effective and affordable to build and maintain (see ‘physical barriers’ below). A response within their budget and abilities meant the beekeepers could take responsibility for the long-term prevention of HBC, a scenario that was not achieved by less effective or more expensive approaches such as scarecrows, motion sensors and alarm systems.

Education and awareness: A number of public awareness activities were undertaken within the framework of the project. These were aimed at both the beekeeping communities affected by HBC – who had little factual knowledge about bears despite their long co-existence – and the wider Turkish public. The project partners facilitated:

  • articles about brown bears appearing in widely-read Turkish magazines and newspapers, covering their ecology and involvement in conflict scenarios. The articles promoted the use of bear-proof beehive platforms as an effective HBC response (see ‘physical barriers’ below)
  • a three minute television spot about brown bear ecology and behaviour created by Ata Demirer (a famous Turkish personality) in conjunction with Nature Society for Turkey. This was aired by CNN Turkey over a week
  • a brown bear education activity book created in cooperation with teachers for use with primary school children. This aims to help a new generation appreciate the value of bears and better understand how to co-exist safely with alongside them, creating a lifelong tolerance for wildlife.

Avoiding negative encounters: The awareness work (above) also built tolerance for living alongside bears through creating an understanding of bear behaviour and ecology. Following straight-forward principles for living, working, and recreating safely in bear habitat has helped people avoid unnecessary encounters with bears that could result in injury or death.

Bear-focused interventions

Beehive platform
The platforms prevent bears accessing the hives and are an affordable option for local farmers © Ozgun Emre Can

Physical barriers: A locally appropriate, cost-effective and simple method of elevation was used to make the beehives inaccessible to bears. Five scaffolding platforms were erected in different beehive farm sites (all in Rize and Artvin) with the help of local people; each elevated up to 10 hives each three metres from the ground.

Both human and bear-focused methods are explored in Principles of Human Bear Conflict reduction (WSPA, 2009), a document prepared by wildlife experts (including IUCN specialists) and social scientists to inform governments and specialised non-government organisations. Read more and download document >>

Results

This project demonstrates how international and national animal welfare organisations can work together to share expertise and enable local stakeholders to effectively address a Human Bear Conflict (HBC) issue.

In this case, a long-standing conflict situation has been reduced using a holistic approach that includes preventive measures aimed at changes in both human practices and bear access to hives. The approach is long-term: public awareness work increases tolerance for co-existence with bears, and Nature Society for Turkey monitors the platforms on an ongoing basis to ensure practical measures remain effective.

In 2008, Nature Society for Turkey reported that two of the existing platforms had been enlarged by owners working on their own initiative. A further two platforms were being built by neighbouring farmers, replicating the example set out and even working to perfect it further. This demonstrates an important aspect of the project – that it can act as an easily replicable example for any community that sees benefit in it.

The conflict reduction work in Rize and Artvin can show Turkey’s wildlife authorities and the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) that appropriate, effective and humane measures allow local people to take responsibility for protecting their crops. WSPA and our partners provided the expertise, but it is the commitment of the authorities and the local stakeholders which will enable the project to work long-term.

With the commitment of relevant stakeholders – including government authorities, the local community and others – the achievement of a humane, long-term HBC reduction project can ripple outwards to create further ‘bear aware’ communities in Turkey.