By Harriet Nimmo
It seems that some traditional medical treatments are making a comeback and are forging their place alongside new technologies. Honey was used as a treatment for wounds by the ancient Egyptians and has been found in tombs dating from 3000BC. And now here in Hoedspruit, local wildlife vet, Dr. Joel Alves, is pioneering the use of honey to treat wildlife injuries.
Joel works closely with Elephants Alive. Since 2015 Elephants Alive have been developing their ground-breaking “Bees, Trees, Elephants and People” project. To reduce human:elephant conflict, Elephants Alive have trialled hanging bee-hives in iconic marula trees, to reduce elephant impact. Elephants are scared of bees, and so avoid the trees. As a side product, Elephants Alive are now producing “elephant-friendly” honey and beeswax products (such as wax food wrap cloths and lip-balm).
Knowing of honey’s healing properties, Joel has started using Elephants Alive’s honey to treat wildlife wounds. Joel explains “honey is well known to have anti-bacterial properties, and its high viscosity helps provide a protective barrier to prevent infection. Using this locally-harvested, organic honey is fantastic, as its constituents work best against the local bacterial infections we find here. We are increasingly concerned about bacterial resistance to antibiotics, and so using nature’s own natural remedy is an obvious solution ”.
Joel first trialled using the honey when Elephants Alive called him to treat a bull elephant with a horrific snare injury. Once the snare was removed, the deep wound was packed with the honey. Since then, Joel has used it on a number of other wildlife injuries dotted within the Reserves and round Hoedspruit. These have included a zebra with a snare, a lion with deep wounds, a kudu calf with severe lacerations, a warthog with a snare around its snout and a duiker.
Joel explained “As these are wild animals, free to roam, it is very difficult to follow up on their recovery process. However I’m delighted to say that the elephant, warthog, lion and duiker have all been seen since, and they all seem to be making a remarkable recovery. Thanks to Elephants Alive, I now always keep a jar of honey in my medical kit”.
Elephants Alive’s delicious, organic “elephant-friendly” honey sells out as fast as they can produce it. As a result, there are exciting plans to expand the “Bees, Trees, Elephants and People” programme. Dr Michelle Henley, Elephants Alive’s Director and co-founder, explains “We are developing bee-keeping and honey-production micro-enterprises with local community members who work in the Protected Areas. This will help develop alternative livelihoods, improve economic conditions and increase food security in these impoverished areas. This is of course, even more critical with the impact of coronavirus on wildlife tourism. I believe that fostering positive relationships with communities close to Protected Areas is key to calling for tolerance relating to potential human-elephant conflict and the protection of natural resources. Once people get to understand the value of living with elephants, human-elephant-coexistence becomes the order of the day”. A quadrupled win for bees, trees, elephants and people!
A very big thank you to Michelle Campbell of Wild Wonderful World (instagram profile: Wildwonderful_world). She has offered to sponsor the costs of a collar for the next elephant that is treated for a snare injury. It will be so valuable to be able to track a treated individual so that Elephants Alive and Joel can monitor the wound recovery after being treated with honey (June 2020).