Let’s talk plants…
Report written by Gloria Mugo, GIS Officer Elephants and Bees Project
It all started with the innocent task of documenting elephant raiding activities within the Sagalla community. Me being just the person manning the GPS, and adjusting to getting trapped in the thorny bushes our lovely elephants choose as sneaky pathways to access farms ‘undetected’. A few scratches here and there, several torn pants down the line, and countless hair traps later, a curious interest in what constitutes the bush in this lower Sagalla was birthed in me.
Sagalla is a small community area that is home to a richness in diversity of just about anything wild and living. From the big and mighty eles (elephants) to the minute but incredibly fascinating ants, massive trees in the form of baobabs to the grasses with the most incredibly beautiful flowers ever!!! Who knew?! This is what attracts a myriad of scientists and researchers to tell the tale of this small island of wonder.
One such encounter was with a visiting ethno-botanist, Anne Powys. It started with a round tour of our farm environs, taking stock of the incredible bees in action, feeding off amazing flowers (I had never paid attention to what these little stingy warriors do for food collection until then). Next thing was me getting drawn to literally every single flower, not for the obvious brightness-allure, but for the show those small insects pull off, completely undeterred by our presence!
In the middle of a field activity, should I go M.I.A., you’ll most probably find me nose-up in some bush, struggling to do sneaky bug-on-flowergraphy. This was the defining moment for me. The excitement, the untold sense of peace, calm and wonder amidst the big and tiny bushes, bees, bees and more bees, the butterflies, bugs I never once paid attention to.. this was my new sense of home.
As a GIS specialist, I was trained to perceive the spatial context from big (satellites, aerial photography…) to small (on the spot data). At the Elephants and Bees Project, I have learnt to work my way up, from the small bush, and extrapolate that to the larger scale, to accommodate the large mammal. In the effort to tell the critical detail on the national map, I took upon the task of mapping out our vegetation. All technical processes in place, I set out to what would be the beginning of what would come to be my best moments in the heart of the wild.
The thing with working in this community is the constant need to liaise with local personnel. You want to keep them aware of what you’re up to with the ‘fancy-gadgets’, and tell the nice story of what you are investigating. It always baffles me how welcoming the locals are to anything pro-conservation, especially because they are first-hand witnesses of dangers in the face of human-elephant conflict.
Highlight the successes of the beehive-fence mitigation measure. Tell them the importance of maintaining the wild habitat by seceding logging habits, because of the ripple effect that has on natural habitat destruction: the crop raids, and the very real climate change effects in form of prolonged drought and insufficient rainfall. Discuss the need to preserve indigenous trees that serve numerous needs for the community, from traditional medicines to wild food sources. Like I said, this is one treasure island!
So, I have sourced all sorts of assistants while trying to visit my random survey plots for my vegetation map. The adventure is unlike any other. I have made numerous trips into the forests on the back of a motorcycle, placing 100% trust in my new local riders/guides to get around. They didn’t disappoint! Left to enjoy studying the trees, the bliss at having random butterflies dance on my fingers as I take note of my observations, the weird looking insects out there, and a bush baby!!!! Who gets this lucky?! The undisturbed wildland is beautiful!
Watching my bush entourage munch away at wild berries is always so satisfying… they get to tag along exploring the interiors of their motherland. Not once have we faced dangers in the name of attacks by any animal. I barely understand half of the stories as my team laugh away. But I am happy and very much at home with these trees, birds chirping away, stories attached to each bird sound (I don’t seem to retain much information on bird names, but that doesn’t derail the joyful wonder).
What’s an adventure without bush punctures?!…..
Feature photo by Madi Schiller-Chan