My Elephants and Bees Adventure so far

Blog by International Intern, Emma Settle

There is a belief in Kenya that rain is a blessing from above – whilst rain is one type of weather that we are well accustomed to it in England, the morning I flew to Nairobi the rain was unusually intense, which made me think that maybe it was a sign of good things to come! As I have become increasingly engaged with conservation and environmental science, one aspect that has held a particular interest for me is human-wildlife conflict. As a significant and growing issue within conservation, it has major impacts for both human and wildlife populations. When I was offered the amazing opportunity to volunteer for the Elephants and Bees Project one of my intentions was to gain a deeper understanding of how wildlife can be used to conserve other wildlife; in this case how bees can be used as an effective strategy to mitigate and prevent crop-raiding elephants.

I was very fortunate that on my first full day in Tsavo, I was able to watch a herd of elephants interact and drink from a watering hole, located only ten meters away from a viewing platform at Voi Wildlife Lodge. This fantastic vantage point offers a panoramic view over Tsavo East National Park. Seeing the elephants reignited my excitement and commitment to the work that lay in store for me over the coming weeks.

Enjoying the company of elephants at Voi

Enjoying the company of elephants at Voi

One of my main tasks while I am the Research Camp is to manage the honey side of the project. When I arrived at the camp, there had been a large harvest the week before and I was able to assist Becca with the honey processing and jarring operation. The honey is attached to bars, which are located at the top of the hive and are replaced with fresh bars when those filled with honey are removed. The first task is to scrape off the white waxy seal that the bees create to cover the hexagonal shaped comb where the honey is stored. The bars are then placed into a honey extractor where the vigorous turning of a handle spins the bars and forces out the honey. The honey accumulates at the bottom of the extractor and is then filtered until it is ready to be jarred. After hours of hard work the sight of glorious honey being poured into the jars is very gratifying!

Becca hard at work in the honey room

Becca Horan hard at work in the honey room

It’s funny how quickly you become accustomed to having hundreds of bees crawling all over you and crashing into your veil; trying to work out what kind of threat you present to their colony. The work in the field is a fascinating experience and one that makes you appreciate the complex system of orderliness and efficiency that exists within a beehive. The behavior of the bees can correlate to the productivity of the colony; it generally follows that if the hive has copious amounts of honey then the swarm is likely to be more aggressive. Despite this, there are a number of factors that we can use to reduce our disturbance to the bees when we harvest. Ideally we aim to harvest between 5.30pm and 7.30pm, as the bees tend to be less aggressive in the cool of evening. One tool that is essential for beekeepers is a smoker. The smoke helps to subdue the bees as it interferes with the pheromones that they release when they feel under attack. In addition to working gently and quietly, we work in a team to reduce the time that we spend at a hive, for example one person uses the smoker whilst another lifts out the bars and another person may make notes or shine a torch.

Getting the smoker ready to help subdue the bees

Me getting the smoker ready to help subdue the bees

Finally, celebrating my birthday in the sunshine made a nice change this year! We all spent the day at Voi Wildlife Lodge and then went to Lion Hill Lodge where we enjoyed sundowners and dinner. Situated on ‘Mlima ya Simba’ (Swahili for lion hill) it adjoins Tsavo East National Park and boasts spectacular views over the park – definitely a birthday to remember.

Until next time….

Emma Settle, MSc





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