Monitoring: A Tale of Birds and Bees

Report written by international intern Laura McHenry

A little gray bird with a yellow throat and creamy belly has taken to monitoring my work. He glowers at me from his perch on the clothesline, tail held stiffly erect, hopping to and fro in the attitude of a feinting boxer. With each flap of his wings he produces a brisk snap, scolding me like a perpetually disgruntled office manager.  Whether this warbler of less than twenty grams is going to fight me or critique my time management skills is unclear. I call him Fred.

Of course, I don’t blame Fred for his brusque behavior. He’s only trying to secure his mating territory, after all, and he’s not alone. With the advent of the rains and a season of plenty, Sagalla is full of plants and animals checking things out (so to speak.)

Photo: Madi Schiller-Chan


Since the rains have come, Tsavo’s elephants have been (ahem) occupied in the park where browse and water are plentiful, well away from the farms. During this welcome break from crop raids, we at Elephants and Bees are busy monitoring a very different kind of occupation – honeybee occupations of the Langstroth hives! Honeybees have returned with the rain and are moving into hives left right and center. As responsible bee-landlords, every week without fail a team of us walks through the shambas (farms), noting which hives are now happily buzzing and where repairs are needed. Tenants are moving in fast. More than once, we’ve even witnessed a swarm of bees move into a hive that we’d marked as empty only a few minutes before.

Emmanuel records data on the condition of a beehive fence amongst flourishing pea plants. Photo: Laura McHenry


The bees have brought a palpable sense of excitement and hope to Sagalla. We are practically jumping for joy in anticipation of a honey harvest – the first since the drought began two years ago. The farmers are smiling, ever more hopeful that when the elephants inevitably return to be tempted by tasty crops, the bees will be ready and waiting to persuade them to look elsewhere.

African honeybees occupy an Elephants and Bees Project Langstroth hive in the village of Mwambiti, Kenya. Photo: Laura McHenry


As I sit at my desk, Fred stops by for his daily visit. He fixes me with a managerial stare, as if to say, “Have you figured this conservation thing out yet?” Well boss, it’s not easy, but we’re working on it.

Fred is a Yellow-Breasted Apalis, or Apalis pugnax – literally “the fighting Apalis.” Photo: Laura McHenry

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