My final Days with the Elephants and Bees Project
Report from International Intern, Emma Settle
Selecting experiences to include for my final blog has presented quite a challenge, this demonstrates how eventful and varied my 10 week internship has been. I was fortunate to be involved in the construction of two new beehive fences in Mwambiti, which is an exhausting but highly rewarding experience. The hives were kindly provided by a number of different donors and required a team effort in order to construct the two fences. The hard work that is required in positioning the posts, hanging the hives, shades and attaching the wire makes you feel invested in the fence and its success for the farmer and their family. Once a new beehive fence is completed it gives you a real sense of how the farmer must feel. Comforted in the knowledge that once the hives are occupied with bees, they can sleep more soundly and not have to fear elephants raiding their crops during the night.
On a separate occasion I also gained a tangible understanding of how threatening it must feel for the farmers to have elephants on their land. One evening when were harvesting honey we suddenly heard elephant vocalisations on the adjacent farm, swiftly followed by banging and shouting from the farmer whose field the elephants had decided to enter. We immediately closed the hive we were working on and agreed that we could not continue the evening’s work. In the dark walking back to the farmer’s house we wavered between fear and excitement, as we did not have any idea where the elephants were but knew that they could not be too far away. After a crop raid, or an attempted one we then have the task of tracking the elephants footprints. It is vital to record data, such as how many elephants there were, the dimensions of their tracks and then we would use a GPS device to track their route in and out of the farm. If the elephants were successful in breaking through the fence (typically when there was low hive occupation) or they managed to find an opening in the fence, the elephants would often travel extremely close to a farmer’s house in order to take advantage of their crops. The evening we heard the elephants, on the neighboring farm to where were were harvesting made me appreciate how vulnerable the farmers can feel, especially for those who only have the company of their dogs and domestic livestock.
One of the more physically challenging tests that we undertook was climbing Sagalla Hill, an isolated mountain block of the Taita Hills, which rises 700 metres above the Tsavo Plains. When we were around two thirds of our way up the mountain, the habitat started to change and became more green and lush as the mountain is high enough to catch rain clouds that come from the Indian Ocean. The very top of the mountain was covered with a moist cloud forest and the unique ecosystems create a habitat that is home to a number of endemic birds, butterflies, plants, reptiles and the Sagalla caecilian – a worm-like amphibian. On a clear day you can see the sun-scorched plains of Tsavo East National Park and the numerous villages that are based at the bottom of the mountain. Unfortunately, a lot of the natural forest has been lost to cultivation, which even takes place on the steepest slopes of the mountain. Whilst we were at the top of the mountain we visited Sagalla Primary School, before making our way back down to camp along with Winky and Tsavo, our camp dogs who had unknowingly gone for a much longer walk than I’m sure they had anticipated!
Another physically exerting task that we rolled up our sleeves for was the kitchen extension. With the camp expanding and needing to serve increasing numbers of visitors and interns, we felt that the space in the kitchen was not adequate. With funds that the project had recently received from a film crew, we were able to acquire the relevant materials for a kitchen extension. Once the posts and roof were established the whole team was recruited to make the cement for the floor. This involved mixing sand, cement mix and aggregate together with water and carrying the pans of cement over to where another person lay and smoothed out the cement. Whilst some people mixed the cement, others dealt with the supply of water containers and the carrying and emptying of the cement pans. Once the cement had dried we were able to work on making an opening from the existing kitchen wall to create a doorway that would enable people to easily walk from the kitchen into the outdoor dining space. Once we had positioned a large table and taken some plants and herbs from the bee fodder garden to place around the new structure, we were all very pleased with our handiwork and questioned how we had managed without the additional space before!
My time with the Elephants and Bees project has given me a deeper understanding of human-elephant conflict and prevention strategies that can benefit local communities who are very much in need of help and support. The internship has furthered my passion for African wildlife and my commitment to help threatened species and the communities that live alongside them.