An eye-opening experience

Field Report by Intern Nishi Shah, Elephants and Bees Project 

Save The Elephants’ Elephants and Bees Project has brought a tremendous amount of assistance to the community and the farms of Sagalla through beehive fences, natural elephant deterrents and education. Throughout my internship, I have been able to witness these innovative methods in place protect farmland and help reduce crop-damage and hence promote human-wildlife coexistence. It has truly been an awe-inspiring adventure!

Beehive fence monitoring and construction

There are beehive fences in three villages in Sagalla; Mwakoma, Mwambiti and Kajire, and Save The Elephants monitor the hives in the former two villages. Monitoring involves checking in on hive cleanliness; fence wire connections; new occupations; whether the bees absconded and general maintenance of the fence. As we go around the perimeter of the fence checking in unoccupied hives, we fill out datasheets on paper and on 123Survey for each individual hive. Sometimes during our monitoring rounds, we have found some unwanted guests in the hives (apparently Blistone’s beehives, a farmer in Mwambiti, are a hotspot!) Not ideal when you are sticking your head close to the opening and a snake has inhabited the hive!

Beehive monitoring at Erick’s farm. Photo by Jasper Scofield


During my time at Elephant and Bees, the team has constructed 5 beehive fences which were for the National Drought Management Authority (NDMA) beneficiaries and 7 smelly elephant repellent fences. You will definitely muster up some upper body strength digging holes and carrying poles and hives after a couple of fence constructions. The community connection I witnessed was amazing: with so many farmers coming to help their neighbours and spreading the knowledge of the benefits of growing non-palatable crops. From forming acquaintanceships with the farmers myself, I was able to hear their struggles from crop failure, raids and inadequate precipitation – it seems to be mainly linked to climate change. I also had a chance to  hear their gratitude for the Elephants and Bees Project.

Girl power burrowing through Meshack’s farm. Photo by Mwololo Muasa


It takes a team to put up a fence! Photo by Mwololo Muasa


Night work

At least twice a week I would ask when there would be nightwork – I was very intrigued and excited to see how it all unfolds. During the second week of November, we went to Jennifer’s farm where we transferred an occupied hive from the centre to her farm and added a super box onto it (this is the box where the honey is harvested from). I was quite hesitant at first despite my full body bee suit but I quickly became accustomed and did a very important job – holding up the light! We also went to Nzumu’s farm the following week to add two super boxes to his hives and to lift a hive we saw during a previous monitoring round that was hanging on one post.

Best bee-lieve, we were very excited for nightwork! Photo by Emily Belcher


Climbing Sagalla hill

After the rains postponed our climb multiple times, Emily (my intern partner) and I managed to convince Mwololo to take us up Sagalla Hill alongside Paul. If you would like to attempt this hike with Mwololo, prepare to walk as though you have an elephant on your tail! Throughout the brisk walk up the hill, Mwololo pointed out various species of plants through Binomial nomenclature, most of the names went right over my head but I managed to catch a few and write them down. Walking over the false peak was beautiful, it was like we were entering a new realm! It was much greener and there were so many terraced farms that almost made it seem like we were in Bali! We walked further up to the Eucalyptus forest and also visited Paul’s house where his mother kindly made us chai and mihogo (cassava) as it started to pour down.

Picture break (for the plants, not us) on Sagalla Hill. Photo by Nishi Shah


Over the false peak of Sagalla Hill and into a whole new world! Photo by Nishi Shah


Elephant tracking

Once December hit there was suddenly a whole load of elephant tracking. Equipped with a GPS, a tape measure, some snacks and plenty of water we set out either to the farms where the elephants had visited or to the survey line, which is the boundary between Ndara Ranch and the community side. The most fun tracking I had been on happened to be the longest one and it also happened to start pouring down during the period we were out which meant it was a race between us finding footprints and the rain washing the footprints away! Tracking in thick bush meant my heart was in my throat most of the time just because of the number of snakes we would come across or because there was a scare game going on between the team!

Elephant footprints at the boundary of Ndara Ranch and the community side. Photo by Nishi Shah


Measuring 50 x 30 on a farm. Photo by Jasper Scofield


Trying to stay dry during tracking (but not doing a very good job.) Photo by Nishi Shah


I had the pleasure of joining in on Victor Ndombi’s and Derick Wanjala’s tree regeneration project where I was helping to deliver tree saplings to some farmers in Mwakoma, Mwambiti and Kajire. Each farmer got 14 Melia volkensii, 14 Terminalia brownii and 2 Trichilia Emetica saplings. The former two were also being planted along the perimeter of Kileva Primary School’s football field.

Delivering tree saplings to Titus! Photo by Derick Wanjala


Planting around the football field at Kileva Primary School. Photo by Victor Ndombi


The entire experience has been so eye-opening for me and the driven and talented team at Elephants and Bees have made my internship so memorable throughout the many adventures and laughs together.

The views, opinions and position expressed in this article belong solely to the author/s and do not necessarily reflect the policy and position of Save the Elephants


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