Bush Memories (1)

Report written by international intern Abi Best

I am coming to the end of my internship with the Elephants and Bees team and it has been particularly special. My experiences here were only ever dreams before I arrived, and I feel incredibly grateful to be able to now call them memories. My time here and the people I have met have encouraged me to make one of the most important decisions in my life, and not my first either!

On New Year’s Day 2017, I took a great step into an unknown world, spending over a year living in the African wilderness and I have been rewarded with beautiful moments and encounters in some of the wildest places.

I had signed up with EcoTraining, an organisation that trains guides and guardians of the natural world. I completed my training in South Africa and Botswana where we immersed ourselves in nature, learning everything that comes with it including astronomy, taxonomy, weather and climate, plants, biomes, animal behaviour and my personal favourite – tracking.

Flippy, a frequent visitor to EcoTraining’s Karongwe Camp, South Africa

Hippos at dusk in Karongwe Game Reserve, South Africa

Queen of camoflauge, Mashatu Game Reserve, Botswana

White rhino mother and calf in Selati Game Reserve, South Africa

Sunset at Mamagwa, Mashatu Game Reserve, Botswana

Mamagwa, Mashatu Game Reserve, Botswana

Wanting to work in conservation, I joined Elephant-Human Relation Aid (EHRA), an NGO based in Namibia and the only organisation to be involved with the conservation of the desert-adapted elephants inhabiting the region.

Patrol Week with EHRA, Namibia

Visitor at EHRA’S Base Camp, Namibia

 There, subsistence farmers who eke out an existence in the desert need all the help they can get to co-exist peacefully with the elephants who share their precious resources. Working with EHRA was the most physically, mentally and emotionally challenging experience to date as well as the most rewarding, inspirational and soul-stirring.

EHRA friends under the stars on Patrol Week

Morning views on Patrol Week with EHRA

Some of my favourite moments of 2017 were just being in my tent, being awoken by the sounds of branches breaking and leaves crunching. Personally, I feel there is no better way of waking up than to a herd of gentle giants munching away, surrounding your tent and to just sit up and watch these huge silhouettes, lit only by the moon and stars, all whilst tucked up in bed with a giant smile on your face.

Kambonde, a young elephant bull visits us at a temporary camp on Build Week with EHRA

After graduating successfully and spending Christmas holidays with friends and family in the UK, I once again boarded a plane to Africa; this time to Kenya to join the Elephants and Bees team situated near Tsavo East National Park.

When I arrived at Voi train station, I was greeted by Alison – a fellow intern – who explained that we would drop my belongings off at camp and leave straight away to help collar two out of twenty ‘at risk’ elephants with the rest of Save The Elephant’s E&B team, Kenya Wildlife Service and Tsavo Trust.

Kenya Wildlife Service, Tsavo Collaring Operation


What a welcome!

The next few hours felt like a dream (which I expressed to the team, many times!). My first experience of collaring an elephant was a big, beautiful bull who we named Sagalla. Incredibly, Sagalla turned out to be a Great Tusker after measurements were taken by the Elephants and Bees team!

Taking Sagalla’s measurements

The days following that afternoon were just as surreal. I was even lucky enough to be able to join Tsavo Trust pilot, Josh, in the STE 206 plane and be given the role of ‘aerial spotter’! Observing the team in action from the sky was remarkable. The dedication of the team and their efficiency were clear to see, even from the clouds.

The team in action, Tsavo Collaring Operation

Great Tusker, Balachu, refuses to move in the direction KWS Pilot, Anthony, tries to guide him. Chief Veterinarian Dr. Poghon monitors Balachu from the air, waiting for the tranquiliser dart that he had administered only moments before to take effect

My projects throughout my internship here have been:

  • Beehive Fence Monitoring
  • Elephant Crop Raid Assessments
  • Elephant Tracking
  • Crop Raid Data Entry
  • Camera Trap Processing
  • Assisting MSc student, Abi Johnson with her honey badger deterrent project
  • A bit of Elephant-Friendly lip balm making too!

Working on these different projects has been a brilliant insight into the world that I would like to have a career in.

I have really enjoyed meeting all the farmers and visiting them and their beehive fence farms on a regular basis. I have also had a chance to meet the non-beehive fence farmers in the villages nearby but, unfortunately, a number of these meetings have been due to unfortunate circumstances. These farmers have had huge numbers of elephants enter their farms and raid the many crops that they have been working so hard, day by day to grow, in almost impossible conditions due to the prolonged drought.

Some of these farms have been built on ‘elephant corridors’ or nearby large water sources such as a dam. This in turn means that they regularly have these unwelcome visitors passing through and taking the opportunity to feed on almost all the crops grown, and of any that are not eaten are most likely trampled on and made inedible.

Maize trampled by elephants

Sadly, their troubles do not end there. Elephants have a superb sense of smell and will even be able to source out water! Farmers use their homes for storage and for sleeping, and will often keep containers of water, harvested crops and other domestic foods in them. Devastatingly, elephants have destroyed many farmer’s homes, in order to obtain these foods and the majority of the time the farmers have been sleeping inside with their families when awoken to this terrifying ordeal.

A farmer demonstrating the damage to his house by elephants

Visiting these farms for myself and seeing the devastation caused by these hungry elephants was incredibly thought provoking. So many hardworking farmers and their families left with nothing – no home, no food, no water, no source of income, no livelihood.

Devastation caused by elephant raids

Yet unbelievably, whilst standing next to their former home – now just a heap of bricks, mud and metal on the ground, they still find a reason to smile and laugh with you. There is no fault to blame in this situation, it is an unfortunate result of the constant growth of human population and infrastructure, pushing wildlife and people closer and closer together.

Fortunately, there are some brilliant projects such as Elephants and Bees and people who are dedicating their lives to helping protect the farmers and elephants from this conflict by using sustainable solutions that can continue to be utilised across Africa and Asia.

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