For thousands of years Africa’s traditional beekeepers have had to contend with honey badgers raiding their beehives. The fixing and suspension of hollowed log and basket hives in the upper branches of tall trees to protect against both theft and badgers is commonplace (Fichtl 1995; Kigatiira 1984; Robinson 1982; Rosevear 1974). Satisfactory results have also been obtained using wire stands and it was suggested that hives far from habitation should be placed on a trestle 1,5 meters above the ground with an overlapping platform (Kingdon 1989; Clauss & Clauss 1991). In Zambia and Tanzania guards and thorn bush barriers are sometimes constructed round a tree trunk to prevent badgers from climbing up to hives (Ansell 1960; Kingdon 1989). In Tanzania it has been shown that preventative measures, including chemical deterrents, can be effective and by suspending beehives by wires from trees, attacks can be avoided. (Neal & Cheeseman 1996; Neal 1986). In Israel beekeepers stake down beehives to prevent the badgers from toppling them over (Mendelssohn & Yom-Tov 1987). In Europe various smell and taste (consisting primarily of aluminium ammonium phosphate) repellents have been marketed for European badgers (Meles meles). However, none of these products are very effective and electric fencing has proved the most effective way of deterring European badgers (Cheeseman pers. comm.)
The raiding of domestic beehives by honey badgers is learned behaviour. Therefore, the sooner a beekeeper adopts some sort of hive protection measures the less effort he will need to expend in the future. While each beekeeper had different designs and costs, hives can either be protected while still on the ground or raised well above ground level on a stand or trestle. Some beekeepers resort to extreme measures to protect their hives, including attaching treble fishing hooks to hives and the use of trap guns. But simple hive protection measures are more successful and economically viable. After hive protection, badger damage was reduced from 21.8% to 6%. While most beekeepers sustained negligible damage after protection, those that made no such effort continued to sustain high losses of between 10% to 75%.
How to protect your commercial hive from badgers
First ensure your hive is in good condition and sturdy. Badgers typically roll the hive over and then rip the super or lid from the brood box, particularly if the bottom board and lid is weakened due to moisture and the resulting wood rot. To prevent the badger from succeeding, the various sections of the hive must be fastened together. Simply wrapping baling wire (2,4mm) around the entire hive is effective, but could involve an excessive amount of wire and wastage. In addition, badgers were often strong enough to shift the lid or super sufficiently to gain purchase and ripped the box and frames apart.
A more effective technique, is to insert 3 screws placed triangularly across each section of the hive. The “Pozi-drive” chipboard screw (size 8x50mm) is ideal for this purpose. A short piece of baling wire can then be wrapped around the protruding head of each screw. Thisenables the hive to be inspected easily and the same piece of wire reused. To prevent badgers rolling the hive, half (70cm) of a standard fence dropper can be used to peg two opposing sides of the hive and a section of wire attached to the protruding eye of the dropper and wrapped around a Pozi-drive screw set at each corner of the bottom board.
This hive's lid has been secured to the brood box with binding wire wrapped around 3 "pozi-drive screws. The bottom board is fastened in a similar fashion to a half section of standard dropper pegged on both sides.
An alternative to wire was the use of industrial steel straps but the initial cash outlay was high The two tools necessary for crimping and tensioning each strap together cost approximately R2000. A bulk roll of strapping along with attachment clips cost R1400 and an extra labourer needs to be employed to release or fasten each hive. The same section of steel strap could be reused for one season only Steel was preferred over galvanised straps as they are cheaper and biodegraded faster once abandoned. To return rolled hives to their correct position, hives were routinely checked every 3 to 4 weeks. Bees seldom absconded from hives that had been rolled.
This hive'slid and bottom board is constructed from thick timber and secured to the brood box with a metal tab. The strap securing the hive with clips costs +-R1 per hive. A badger can roll the hive but cannot break in.
Hives can be placed inside or between bushes to prevent them being rolled. To improve the hives structural strength 50mm Pozi-drive screws are preferred over nails. Steel tabs or large staples are used to ensure that a hives super or lid are fastened securely to the brood box. A standard hive tool is used to quickly remove the staples. Hive bottom boards and roofs can be constructed from “Panelite” or 20mm solid wood and joined together with epoxy and screws.
One way to effectively protect hives, particularly hives in poor condition, is to raise them onto stands or trestle tables. Some 81% of beekeepers surveyed opted to protect their hives using for this method. Many of them say that hives on stands are easier to work with, offer protection against baboons, help keep the hive dry and last longer, aid in avoiding ants and stop undergrowth covering the entrance to the hive. Typically hives are raised between 0,8 to 1,5 meters above the ground. It is essential that the stand is secure and that the hive is fastened to the stand by some means. While a badger can often reach the hive by standing on its hind legs, providing the hive has been properly secured the badger lacks the leverage or power to topple the hive or stand. With some designs the badger is capable of climbing up onto the stand, but still could not break in if the hive is correctly secured.
This hive is situated within a 5x5 meter diamond mesh fenced perimeter. Diamond mesh was buried in trench with earth and packed rocks. A trestle made from old tar drums and scrap pipes was covered in razor wire at R10 / meter.
Many beekeepers visited scrap yards and municipal dumps to salvage steel and wire for constructing hives. Old fence poles, 200 litre drums and used car tyres (figures 13, 14 & 15) were often obtained free of charge to create a trestle. In these instances it was considered important that tyres and drums were filled with sand and stone to secure them properly.
Old car tyres were regularly used to raise hives. The tyres must be packed with stone and gravel and secured together with bailing wire. While inexpensive to erect, tyres were prone to fire and labour intensive to move again.
This apiary was located in a private nature reserve and was aesthetically pleasing. Discarded fence posts were treated. Each post must be at least 20 cm higher than the crossbars to prevent the secured hive from being pushed off by badgers.
This platform was erected for less than R10 per hive. The platform was welded together from scrap metal and nailed to the upright pole. The eucalyptus pole was self felled and buried approximately 40 cm into the earth. These stands were reported to have fared well during recent fires.
This trestle, made from old irrigation pipes will last many years and will not be damaged by fire or badgers. The solidly constructed steel pipes were treated with non-corrosive paint. Greased tins prevent ants climbing up the legs.
These steel stands cost R150 each and were cemented into the ground. The stand's low height means that it was essential that hive each hive be well constructed. The bottom board bolts directly onto the stand.
This robust, easily moved hive stand cost R76. Badgers have never been known to damage hives protected in this manner. The steel platform can be easily removed from the dropper when needed in other apiaries.
Two concerns were raised by beekeepers about raising hives onto stands. The first was that when elevated above surrounding vegetation the Western Cape’s prevailing winds (particularly along the coastal lowlands) lowered the temperature inside hives and this decreased honey production. The second concern was that bees would not readily return to the hive if the beekeeper used the technique of “stamping” the super onto the ground during honey harvesting. This was done to remove the bees from the super and normally the bees congregate on the ground and many walk back to the hive.
Opinions vary but Hepburn & Radloff (1998) drew attention to the rule of thumb that “the higher the hive, the higher the occupation rate”, suggesting that bees may indeed prefer being off the ground. Many beekeepers mentioned that bees do not like damp conditions and preferred being off the ground (this is borne out by the location of hives in the wild). The fact remains that many beekeepers successfully keep their hives on stands, and that any small decrease in production is far out weighed by substantial losses incurred by badgers should hives remain on the ground.