Elephant Behaviour

Report written by Kenyan intern Benjamin Lago

African elephant societies are arranged around family units. Each family unit is made up of around ten closely related females with their calves, and is led by an older female known as the matriarch. Separate family units bond to form kinship or bond groups. After puberty, male elephants tend to form alliances with other males. Elephants have a gestation period of nearly two years. The mother and other young females in the group exercise parental care of the calves hence known as known as allomothering. Elephants use some vocalizations that are beyond the hearing range of humans to communicate across large distances and their mating rituals include the gentle intertwining of trunks.

An elephant herd in Tsavo East National Park. Photo: Alexa Piggott


Throughout my internship at the Elephant and Bees Project, I have learnt that beehive fences are a natural deterrent against crop-raiding elephants. Well maintained beehive fences in the villages of Mwakoma and Mwambiti have significantly reduced human-elephant conflict (HEC) in Sagalla.

Charity, a project farmer, with a well-maintained beehive fence on her farm. Photo: Ben Lago


The E&B outreach unit has collaborated in a project based in Sasenyi, Rukinga by providing beehive fence training and helping to establish a beehive fence at the site. The community in this area were not aware that beehive fences can be used to deter elephants from raiding crops in farms until Dr. Lucy King (E&B Project leader) engaged Lynn Von Hagen (who has been doing research there for two years) about different mitigation measures. Dr. King shared the idea of beehive fences and how they have really helped the community of Sagalla, especially areas prone to elephants raiding farmers’ crops often.

Discussing the beehive fence build with Lynn upon arrival at Sasenyi. Photo: Alexa Pigott


Since the introduction of the fences, farmers have at least been able to plant and harvest their crops. E&B established beehive fences in Sasenyi as Lynn (with support from Earthwatch) already had beehives and requested assistance. Three beehives from her apiary were occupied luckily enough, which was good for a start and as of now they are still occupied. A farmer named Nzai has been spreading the good news about beehives fence to his fellow farmers and has been educating them on how the fence is useful to deter elephants from crop-raiding. We are now looking forward to other farmers getting beehives so that the E&B team can help with beehive fence training and establishing more beehive fences.

E&B staff and interns building a beehive fence in Sasenyi, Rukinga. Photo: Ben Lago

Beehive fence construction in Sasenyi. Photo: Alexa Pigott

Hanging up dummy hives as part of the fence. Photo: Ben Lago


Kileva Eastfield Primary School pupils have also benefited from the E&B Project and they have been very eager to learn more concerning conservation and the environment. They are the leaders and conservationists of tomorrow – without them conservation has no future. Now at least they see themselves as pioneers in Sagalla village unlike in the past when they used to walk for long distance to access education as there was no school in the area. Since its establishment, Kileva Eastfield Primary School has really helped many pupils from two villages in Sagalla who are now attending classes and learning more on conservation issues.  In the future they may be tomorrow’s professors just like the Nobel laureate Professor Wangari Maathai.

Engaging with kids has really been enjoyable because one has to teach them a particular concept that they will be quick in spreading to their fellow colleagues who weren’t aware about conservation issues or the environment.

Watching a movie with Class 8 pupils at Kileva Eastfield School during their weekly conservation lessons. Photo: Kennedy Lemayian

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