Holidays with Elephants and Bees

Field blog written by our Kenyan Intern, Zachary Mutinda

Lucy King was the name that my mentor kept mentioning to me shortly after they had been to Samburu working with ‘Save The Elephants’, commonly referred to as STE. When that name was mentioned, we all thought of collared elephants, research that has played a major role in elephant monitoring in Africa and beyond. I looked into the name Lucy King and unearthed another big name Iain Douglas-Hamilton; an elephant researcher who has spent his life researching these gentle giants. I also heard people talking about “fake honey” and was even more curious. I wanted to understand how honey is made from the initial step to the final packaged product and developed a strong interest to work with STE’s Elephants and Bees Project. My dream came true on the 4th December in 2018 when I reported to the Research Centre. Lucy welcomed me to camp, a place I would call home for the following few weeks. I missed my family over Christmas but that did not matter much when I was near the country’s largest National Park which also carries the largest population of elephants. I was also excited to see what to learn how pure honey was made.

Zachary © Zachary Mutinda

Elephants pass by Sagalla as they range. They come across palatable forage material with high protein content; one of the most sought after nutrient by herbivores. Pigeon peas, cowpeas, green grams, black beans, maize, sorghum, watermelon and sunflowers are some of the most common crops in the area – Sunflowers are the only non-palatable crop on the list! Elephants destroy the crops by trampling and eating them.

Crop damage after elephant raid © George Troup


Karakara, a beekeeper, invited us over for Christmas lunch. Upon arrival there was a very big herd of elephants grazing by his farm and homestead, I cannot describe the thrill of helping him scare them away and then watching them march into the bush. Banging iron sheets (mabati), old plastic containers (mitungi), using catapults, sling shots, fire, burning pepper in elephant dung and fencing are among the deterrent methods used.

Farmer trying to chase crop raiding elephants away by banging an iron sheet (mabati) © Jessica Van Fleteren

The highly anticipated task, honey harvesting was done at night when temperatures are low and bees less active. It was done by a team of experts from the research center and the farmer in bee suits and among other honey harvesting equipment. Honey processing was done the following day in the honey processing room. with the final product being pure elephant friendly honey, packaged in sterilized glass jars ready for consumption. I took some home to show my family what pure honey feels, looks and tastes like. 

Elephant friendly honey © Tess Morrison

Honey harvesting © Emma Settle


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