Busy days with Elephants and Bees
Report From International Intern, Jessica VanFleteren
It’s been a month since I first arrived at the research camp here in Sagalla and I have already experienced more in the past four weeks than I ever could have imagined. Transitioning to life in the bush has been quite the adventure. The past month has consisted of tracking elephants through farmland and the bush, harvesting honey at night with nothing but a flash light and the stars above me. I’ve monitored beehives and camera traps and watched herds of elephants pass through water holes and incredible big bull elephants as they rest in the shade in Tsavo national park. As the elephants search for food, the bees are working to turn nectar into honey, and the farmers are tending to their crops. It is incredible to witness so many inspiring pieces of life that make up Sagalla.
Watching the farmers as they wait for rain to plough their land and the hard work they put forward as they maintain their bee hives has given me greater appreciation and respect for those who live and work so closely to their land. I’ve been fortunate to witness firsthand the intricate momentum that the Elephants and Bees project has been able to help maintain within the communities in Sagalla. I have gained a priceless appreciation for the spirit for the farmers, elephants and the bees who all work each day adapting to the situations around them trying to protect their livelihoods and their communities.
One of the most interesting aspects of my internship so far has been tracking elephants and observing their crop raiding behavior. As they pass through farms at night, we head out the following morning to collect data and track their paths and behaviour. This can be very strenuous work, in the past we have hiked for hours and over many kilometers trying to track the paths of one of our collared elephants. One day in particular we were out tracking elephants that had crop raided one a farmer without a beehive fence, as we were taking measurements a neighboring farmer came by shouting “Ndovu ! Ndovu !” (Swahili for elephant). Sure enough there were 4 big bulls grazing in the distance, the farmers quickly spread the word around the community to warn them if the potential danger and a call was made to Kenya Wildlife Service. Thankfully no one was hurt and the farmers all worked together to ensure the community stayed safe.
Elephants tend to crop raid at night, so to see them in the farms during the day is rare. This situation of people and elephants living in close proximity, and the communities reaction to the presence of elephants really reminded me how important the Elephants and Bees project is, not only helping the Sagalla community deal with crop raiding elephants but also to try to better understand the elephant behaviour as they react to different changes in their environments. After a long eventful month I feel proud of what I have been able to accomplish and learn and I am look forward to what is to come in the days ahead.