A Hive of Activity

Report by Sri Lankan Intern, Rebecca Sargent

It’s been a steep learning curve since I arrived here in Wasgamuwa as the E&B and SLWCS teams have been working non-stop on a variety of different activities. Initially, during my first couple of weeks it was all about prepping the fences for delivery of some new bee colonies.

Supun, the Elephants & Bees field assistant, hanging one of our new Kiss Me Organics hives.

Thanks to a very generous donation from Kiss Me Organics, we have been the lucky recipients of 40 new bee colonies. This has come at a perfect time for us as our fences were suffering a dearth of bees due to last year’s drought. This was also good timing as it meant I was able to learn immediately about how the fences were constructed and the simple yet effective technique of setting up the connecting wires so the hives can swing. Our first batch of deliveries was being split among five of our best farmers. We therefore had to visit all the fences and make sure everything was up to scratch: the existing hives were hanging properly, the fence posts were strong and the area around the fence was clear of vegetation. We were then ready to receive our new bees! It was a busy day in the field for the Elephants & Bees team, distributing and hanging the new hives at various farms, before returning to open the entrances and release the bees. All the farmers were very excited and provided us with lots of assistance when hanging the hives and shade roofs. We are happy to report that all the bees are doing well. A risk when moving hives is that the bees may abscond, or that they may be unable to find new food sources. All of our farmers have been taking great care of the bees, providing them with water and jaggery to eat and checking on them to ensure they are shaded and comfortable. This is an exciting time for the project as now that our fences are stocked with bees we are able to begin some data collection! Camera traps have been set up around the hives and we will be frequently interviewing the farmers to determine whether elephants have been approaching the fences and how they are reacting to the bees.

Hanging hives with the help of the farmers.

Following this hectic first 2 weeks the next big event for our team was a workshop with Mr Frank Ryde, a Sri Lankan beekeeper who kindly offers his expertise to various initiatives around the country. This was Frank’s second visit to Wasgamuwa and we had an excellent two days in the field with our farmers. Farmer attendance was high at the workshops and it was brilliant to see our beehive fence farmers’ enthusiasm and eagerness to handle their bees. Frank is excellent at engaging the farmers and their confidence has visibly improved since working with him. Only last week one of our farmers insisted that he could hang one of his hives himself without our assistance, no doubt inspired by Frank’s lessons to take more responsibility for his bees. During Frank’s visit we undertook a range of activities including checking hives, transferring a wild swarm from a clay pot into a hive and harvesting honey. We look forward to hosting Frank again in future as he certainly has a lot to teach both ourselves and the farmers about successful beekeeping.

Supun shows two of our farmers how to inspect a comb. Photo Zaineb Akbarally.

We are now preparing for the delivery of our second batch of bee colonies, which will arrive next week. All of our fences are in great shape and ready for their new occupants! However, earlier this year we unfortunately had to remove one of the fences due to the owner being uncomfortable with the bees and unwilling to keep up with maintenance. We therefore decided that now would be a good time to build a new one! Deciding where to put a new fence is a big decision and at first I was a little daunted as I wanted to be sure we chose the right location and the right farmer. So what needs to be considered when building a new fence? Location is of course crucial, as we want the fence to be at a farm where elephants are frequent visitors. However, the character of the farmer is also very important as they need to be interested in the project and be willing to work hard and take responsibility for their fence.

Mr Frank Ryde and the team transferring bees from a clay pot to a hive.

Luckily, everything worked out perfectly when one day we were stopped on the road by a lady asking us about how she could get a fence for her farm. We chatted with her a little and discovered that she had been given one of our empty hives in the past which she had hung from a tree in her garden and that she was eager to learn more about beekeeping. To judge her commitment we invited her to our workshop and were delighted when she attended and listened intently to all of Frank’s information about hive management. Next we visited her and her husband at home to have a look at their garden. We were interested to find that they had a large number of banana trees in their garden, as well as some coconuts and other plants that are tasty to elephants. This meant that there were definitely things attracting elephants to this spot and putting a fence around the garden would be beneficial to the family if it protected their fruit trees. Secondly, the trees provided some ideal shade for our beehives. Later I also had a look back through the data that had been collected over the last year. I discovered that this family had been very helpful in reporting elephant events and that they had elephants visiting their garden much more frequently than some of the other households in the village. So the decision was made. We sourced some new fences posts, prepared some hives, and with the help of some labourers the fence was erected in just one day! The simple design of these fences means that construction (once the difficult part of digging holes for the posts is complete) is a very quick process. The team are delighted to welcome the Sirisena family to the project! Their enthusiasm and helpfulness made the decision very easy and we look forward to seeing how the fence works out for them.

The bees enjoying some of the spilt honey

Painting the fence posts with oil helps to discourage termites

We are expecting delivery of the 20 new colonies next week, so our team is preparing for yet another busy week in the field! Once all the bees are in position this will mean we have 9 excellent fences ready for testing. Data collection will then begin in earnest and we will spend our days checking cameras and visiting the villagers to discuss elephant raids. Plus of course, continually monitoring the hives to ensure the bees are happy and healthy!

The Elephants & Bees team with Mr and Mrs Sirisena


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