Adventures Outside the Classroom
Blog by International Interns, Mikki Koot and Chloe Lucas
For many of the children at Kileva Primary School, Mwakoma village is their entire world. Since January 2015 interns volunteering with The Elephants and Bees Project have been working with class 8 teaching them about the project, environmental conservation and expanding their global awareness and horizons. Every Wednesday afternoon we head up to the school tucked away behind the research camp to work with these engaging and bright children. In the second week of November the pupils in Class 8 sat their KCPE exams which determine which secondary school they can attend. Sitting these exams marked an important milestone for the village as they are the first class in the school to have reached this level. To celebrate this special occasion we decided to take the class on a field trip.
On Friday morning, the class, made up of 16 pupils, arrived excitedly at The Elephants and Bees Research Centre. Before leaving for the field trip we showed the pupils several camera traps and explained all the ins and outs and what we use them for at on Elephants and Bees Project. You could see a vague grimace of understanding, but not quite grasping the concept that this little box would take photos of everything that moved in front of it. After getting into the cars we made our way to the first stop; Nashon’s farm. Nashon is one of our Mwambiti beehive fence farmers and even going to Mwambiti by car, for some of the children, is a real treat. At the farm we showed them the beehive fence and were able to show them some elephant tracks remaining from a previous crop raid. Nashon’s farm is also the location of four of our camera traps so we could put the pupils newly learned knowledge to the test. They helped us collect the SD cards, check the batteries and time and date, while the photos were downloaded onto the field laptop. They were all extremely interested in the camera and eager to help in every way possible. Once the photos were downloaded onto the laptop everybody huddled around to see the screen. We were really lucky and had caught some raiding elephants on camera which they absolutely loved seeing! However, the photos that got the most laughs were ones that had been taken as we approached the cameras and everyone was able to spot themselves on screen. After seeing their grimace change from somewhat understanding, to fully understanding what camera traps entail, we headed off through the bush to our next stop; Sagalla lodge.
On arrival at the lodge we were met with a delicious lunch. Just in time as it started pouring with rain. While we were having our lunch and waiting for the rain to pass we compiled a list of mammals, birds, reptiles, insects, trees, plants and flowers we could possibly encounter on our bushwalk. Shortly after the rain stopped we all huddled underneath a very large Acacia mellifera where one of our three bush guides began talking. With grief in his eyes he explained to the pupils that trees like the one we were standing under would soon disappear from the African landscape due to the charcoal industry. He continued saying that these trees might be good for cooking your food, but that they are much more useful to us living than dead. Besides the fact that we could make tea from their bark, some acacia roots have medicinal values curing anything from a stomach ache to a fever. Their flowers provide pollinators with nectar and pollen and they provide much needed shade for farmer’s crops and cattle as well as for the farmers themselves.
As we continued our bushwalk we came across numerous bird species, ranging from the iconic Eastern Yellow-Billed Hornbill and the Von der Decken’s hornbill to the Spotted Eagle-Owl and the smaller, very beautiful African Paradise Flycatcher. We came across baboon tracks, a dead dik dik who had fallen prey to a jackal only hours before, common routes travelled by elephants and at the end of our walk a beautiful sand snake. Instantly the kids jumped in fear all huddling in a group keeping a safe distance from the snake. Knowing this snake could cause little harm to humans, we took a moment to discuss snakes. Are all snakes dangerous to humans? What role do snakes play in the ecosystem? And why should you not kill every snake you see? Killing snakes is commonplace for the people in this community and has been done for years. There are a handfull of extremely venomous snakes living in this area, such as the notorious Black Mamba, and lacking the knowledge as to exactly what they look like people are likely to kill every snake they find thinking they are keeping their family and cattle safe. Unfortunately the exact opposite happens. One consequence of snake killing is an uncontrollable increase in the rodent population. Rats and mice scurry away left and right when walking into a house of a local. Rodents are known to carry and spread diseases which can cause serious illness. Even more worrying is that in the North of Thailand, India and even South Africa, where the population of snakes are being decimated, there have been cases where rats as large as full grown Maine Coon Cats have eaten newborn babies. The pupils gasped in disbelief hearing all these new facts about snakes. We hope that learning about the importance of snakes is just one of the many pieces of information learnt throughout the day that the pupils will pass onto their family and friends helping the whole community to gain wider knowledge about the importance of the natural world.
One our way back to camp the pupils were thriving with excitement. They had a great day filled with seeing all the wonders of nature on their doorstep. We would like to give a big thanks to Disney Conservation Fund for their fieldtrip fund which made this adventure possible and to Sagalla lodge for being so welcoming.