Meet Derick Wanjala, our Beehive Fence Officer!
Text by International Intern, Robyn Brown
Cover photo by Emily Belcher.
When did you start working at the Elephant and Bees research Centre?
I first came to the camp as an intern in February 2019 and I was here for one month. I then went back home to learn how to drive before I started working full time as a beehive fence officer in July 2019. At the beginning of this year my job title changed to Research Assistant I.
What’s your favourite thing about beehive fence monitoring?
My favourite thing about beehive fence monitoring is when it has rained, and all the farms have high occupations. I get lots of calls from all the farmers telling me they have a new occupation. During the swarming season it is the best and I also enjoy harvesting.
I get to do a lot of different activities some of my favourites have been participating in the aerial survey count in June 2021 for Kenyan Wildlife Services, helping collar 12 elephants in a week and flying while spotting wildlife with Frank Pope – the CEO of Save the Elephants.
What is your least favourite thing about beehive fence monitoring?
The least favourite part is having to monitor empty beehive fences and seeing the disappointed farmers.
What is the most challenging part of your job?
The most challenging part of my job is completing crop raid assessments and talking to those unhappy and sad farmers. I must assess how I think the farmer is feeling before approaching so I can handle the situation. I once had a farmer say to me “I will kill you with your elephants” – this farmer had just lost all his crops due to an elephant.
Derick explained to me that before there have been common misconceptions where people believe that the Elephants and Bees team is bringing elephants to the communities and that the collars around their necks were like a ring or alarm that tells them to come and crop raid. Although we are called Save the Elephants, we are also trying to save the people.
What did you study to get into this line of work?
I graduated in November 2018 from Eldoret University with a BSc in wildlife management. I believed it was important to gain experience so that I knew what I wanted to do which is why I completed an Internship with Elephants and bees and later was employed. I hope to complete a masters in conservation management in the UK In the future.
What do you do during your time off / away from the camp?
I live at the research centre, so I am away from friends and family, during my time off is when I go home to see my family and visit friends. I enjoy planting trees and during the lockdown I planted 500 trees on my parent’s land as well as vegetables that have all been eaten now.
What is your favourite meal of the week?
Chapati and Meat. Derick also said at the table during dinner one evening that “I think I would be ill if I didn’t have ugali for a whole week… I would be sick”.
How many times have you been stung during monitoring / harvesting?
I can say I have been stung more than 100 times, but I am used to them by now and they only hurt for about 10 minutes before it goes away. I lead during the honey harvesting so the 99 times have been during that – I was stung one morning when I was putting out lemon grass oil which attracts bees and I got stung twice on the face. I didn’t want to leave my tent as my face was so swollen.
Are you excited to be using survey 123 instead to collect data instead of the paper version?
I am excited, you know we started with 27 farmers at the beginning and now we have over 50. Going digital will take less time to monitor the three villages that we cover: Mwakoma, Mwambiti and Kijare. Before it would take three days to monitor the Kajire village, the furthest one from the camp, but now it will take two maybe even one day if there is a big team. The dashboard is amazing being able to see each village and farmer!
Do you have any advice for someone wanting to work in conservation?
Fresh graduates need to gain experience through volunteering and internships. It is difficult and competitive to find jobs. You need to be good at networking and using social media such as Facebook pages. Look for conservation NGOs and Kenya Wildlife Service for internships to gain experience.
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