A curious bull in Tsavo East National Park

A brief visit to E & B

Report from International Intern, Sun Xiao

During the short period I stayed at the Elephants & Bees research camp (E&Bs), I was lucky to get involved in various aspects of the project activities such as beehive fence monitoring, crop-raiding incident recording, lip balm making, and also assisting the resident master and PhD students with their research projects. I was very impressed by the excellent and precise data collection methods that are being routinely conducted, and I was able to learn a lot during my brief stay in camp, it is an excellent place for those who wish to be an elephant conservationist and researcher.

Some origami. If you know about the gestural behavior of elephants, you will understand the meaning of their trunk position.

Some origami. If you know about the gestural behavior of elephants, you will understand the meaning of their trunk position.

I had heard of the E&Bs project three years ago when I had started my own Asian elephant study, but it was only later when I personally experienced the scene of the crop raided farms, and felt the loss of farmers, even the loss of their family members that I turned back to the work of E&Bs. I began to understand the meaning of human-elephant conflict (HEC), and realized the complexities involved with elephant conservation. Working on the future of human-elephant relationships is harder and more meaningful than only playing data in the office.

Rain and elephants make my best memories

Rain and elephants make my best memories

When I first read about this project, I thought it was an engineering work, and the key point fell on the design of the beehive fence. After I had some knowledge of HEC, I became aware of the difficulty and complexity of the original work, the socio-economic and psychological mechanism behind this work. Proving the hypothesis and designing the fence are not too difficult, but projecting the simple relationship into a complex real-world environment and making it work are tough. I can imagine the excitement and relief of watching the hypothesis being proved, applied into practice and finally being proved that it works.

A curious bull in Tsavo East National Park

A curious bull in Tsavo East National Park

In china, beekeeping has been introduced to the high HEC risk areas in order to reduce damage by elephants. However,the situation is different from how it is in Africa – habitat loss, fragmentation and degradation are the most critical threats to Asian elephants. Elephants in China live in fragmented mountainous forest where it is extremely hard to see them. They will raid into the farmland near the forest at night just as the crops are ripening. The topography of the farmland in China is very different from what I witnessed in Kenya, due to deforestation and population expansion many of the risky farms are patchy and sloping, not like the regular shape in Africa. Unfortunately most of the farmers widely overuse herbicides and pesticides, which is not good for attracting bees. The problems I have mentioned so far are just part of the wider issue in China. Chinese farmers are facing severe conflict with elephants and are sadly losing their patience and love for elephants. Insurance compensation is not proving to be a healthy link between farmers and elephants, there is a need for a more friendly and ecological link to reduce the conflict. As an elephant conservationist I am delighted to see that beehive fences are working in Africa and Sri Lanka and to be able to shed some light on the mitigation method. Unfortunately the situation in China is a long way off but I hope that we will soon witness a change.

A simple bell-warning fence near a risky rice field in China. In the picture shows a pathway through rubber plantation.

A simple bell-warning fence near a risky rice field in China. In the picture shows a pathway through rubber plantation.

I am greatly appreciative I was able to visit E&Bs – I will always remember the experience and learnt a huge amount from the project. Thanks to everyone who helped me and I look forward to following more of your terrific work in the future.

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