The elephant populations in South Africa's national parks are growing, and big animals can be destructive. 

One type of tree is bearing the brunt, in particular: the marula. 

The elephants strip the trees and shrubs often leaving the trees naked to die. In areas of the Jejane Private Nature Reserve, part of the Greater Kruger National Park, there has been a decline of 35% of the marula trees since elephants have been introduced, says Robby Cook, a zoologist at Elephants Alive, a non-profit organisation dedicated to elephant research based in the Great Limpopo Transfrontier Park. 

bee hive
Zoologist Robin Cook.

The marula is a keystone species that provides feed and shelter to other species in the bush. They play a vital role in the ecosystem, and with too many elephants around the damage can be detrimental. 

With great success, Elephants Alive has started to use bees to ward off the elephants. Just like people, elephants don't like getting stung. They have an acute sense of smell and hearing - and are sensitive to bees. 

In the Jejane reserve, Elephants Alive set up 50 bee hives in the trees to see if honey bees can protect the marulas. So far it is a success.

Out of the 50 trees with beehives, only one was damaged during the past year. 

Cook hopes to adapt the hives and see if they can be used to protect other species of threatened trees like the baobab. He also wants to see if they will help protect the vulture population by putting the hives in trees with nests.

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