Bush Memories (2)

Report written by international intern Abi Best

Everyone’s individual role here is integral to the Elephants and Bees team. No one job is the same or restricted to what is expected! Alison, a recent Botany graduate from Trinity College, Dublin has been identifying pollen-producing plants on the farms (essential for the bees and determines whether they will occupy a hive or not) and Abi Johnson, an MSc student from New York, has been conducting a project deterring honey badgers from destroying the farmer’s hives – which I have had the pleasure to assist with.

Metal sheeting used to deter honey badgers from the beehives

Another exciting moment was heading into Tsavo East National Park with George Troupe, a PhD student from Melbourne, Australia. George is exploring elephants’ motivation for crop raiding and comparing the nutritional value of crops on farms with park vegetation by collecting and analysing dung samples.

Incredibly, whilst looking for elephants, we came across three stunning wild dogs and were able to watch Africa’s most successful hunters in action. George – who had visited the park almost every day for a year – had not sighted these magnificent creatures until then!

Elusive African wild dog in Tsavo East National Park

African wild dogs

A particularly special time for me here was tracking (for the first time) some of the twenty elephants that were collared in the Tsavo operation. Lydia Tiller (E&B’s research and science manager), George and I drove out to the area where we knew three of the collared elephants, Sagatisa, Sagalla and Jenga were residing.

It was my first time using the very high frequency (VHF) tracking kit to locate elephants. It’s incredibly exciting to first hear the faint beep from the receiver, letting you know that the signal from an elephant’s collar has been picked up and there is an elephant – in this case a tusk-less female called Sagatisa – nearby.

E&B project officer Kennedy with VHF tracking device

The beep got stronger and stronger as we followed it, and we could see on the STE mobile tracking app that she was right next to us. It sounds easy enough but believe me, it was anything but. We had been driving through almost impenetrable vegetation for hours and hours, going around in circles. One of the reasons for this, bar the dense bush was that the elephants, understandably, did not want to be found. Every time we were quite close to Sagatisa, she would quickly move deeper into the bush. Eventually, we found her, hidden within her protective herd – we were still able to see her new neckwear and all of us were suddenly covered in goosebumps and could not stop smiling. It was an incredibly special moment.

Unfortunately, over the course of the weekend, we were only able to have this fleeting moment with Sagatisa and were unable to get an updated photograph of her for ID purposes, as she was so hidden. This experience had been very enlightening for me.

However, having a constant update of their movements on the STE app is invaluable. This remarkable technology even allows the STE team to examine the speed that these elephants are going! Knowing an elephants speed is crucial and the team are alerted when an elephant is stationary for an unusual length of time. Ultimately, this app can save elephants lives.

The mobile application used by STE and Kenya Wildlife Service (KWS) to track and monitor elephants in real-time (Photo courtesy of Save The Elephants)

Throughout my internship with Elephants and Bees, I have learnt an unbelievable amount and have experienced many ‘firsts’ in my life! With my internship finishing soon, I am excited about the future. As I mentioned at the beginning of this post, being here has pushed me to make a very important decision. I have decided to study a BSc in Wildlife Conservation as I didn’t go to university when I was younger. On my journey of working and travelling, I have made friends who became like family, gained invaluable skills and self-funded my year in Africa. In life, you don’t have to choose one thing and stick with it, and you don’t have to decide what you will do for the rest of your life, as a teenager. I firmly believe that everything happens for a reason and making this decision, at this time in my life was right for me.

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