Off to a Great Start
Blog by International Intern, Emma Korein
It’s hard to believe that two weeks ago I was in an airplane watching the snowy streets of Philadelphia get smaller and smaller as I began my flight to Kenya. Since day one at camp I have been as busy as ever, working hard and experiencing one adventure after another. This week was particularly exciting. On Wednesday Lucy treated the interns to a tour of Tsavo East National Park. Our mission was to get a rough count of the elephants along the western boarder of the park from Voi towards Mudanda rock. The elephants along this path are candidates for collaring, so it is important to get a good sense of the distribution of elephant families, bull groups and individuals. Within the first 30 seconds of our trip we spotted a family group about 20 meters away, tromping through the bushes. I watched in amazement, this being only the second time I had ever seen a wild elephant. Little did I realize that this would be the first of over 100 different elephants spotted in the park that day. One of the interns, Patrick, was particularly skilled at spotting elephants, sometimes so far in the distance that I could just barely make them out with my binoculars. We had a somewhat dramatic encounter when we crossed paths with an angry bull, who became so agitated that he stomped down a nearby tree. After this act of aggression it seemed like he had started to calm down, until another unlucky tree met its fate.
A more peaceful scene was when we stopped for lunch near a watering hole at around midday. We sat silently in our Landrover, soaking in the peaceful environment around us. Two elephants bathed side by side in the water, rolling over and splashing around. A baby elephant no more than a month old walked alongside its mum and rested underneath her belly. To the right of the watering hole a group of ostriches were making their way north, and to the left a herd of zebras were grazing in the shade. I watched birds of every size and color soar through the air and land from tree to tree. I saw thousands of little white butterflies fill the air as if someone had thrown confetti to the plants. The natural beauty of the setting was so serene I felt I could have sat there all day, watching as one species after another went about their day. It’s incredible to think that this could be work!
Later on in the week I experienced the more negative side of wildlife in Kenya, when there were two elephant crop raids in a row. Nashon is a hard-working farmer and the Mwambiti Community Monitor on the Elephants and Bees Project team. His farm was raided by a family group of elephants on Thursday Feb 4th at around 6:30 in the afternoon, which is early for an elephant crop raid. We visited his farm the next morning and could immediately see the damage. Corn stalks were knocked over and stepped on and footprints were everywhere. However, nothing had been touched within the farm area surrounded and protected by his beehive fence. Tracing the steps of the elephants we found that a family of elephants entered Nashon’s farm from the east and made their way towards the beehive fenced area of his land. About 10 meters from the fence, the elephants stopped, turned around, and left the area, unfortunately towards another farm. This was a huge sign of success for the beehive fences, and a great relief to Nanshon that a large portion of his farm was safe from the elephant visitors.
The next night we got another call saying that a family of 10 elephants, including two calves, had come to visit his farm, again approaching the fence but not entering. Our camera traps were able to get some magnificent pictures of the elephants approaching the fence. An interesting note is that the beehive they approached on this night of crop raiding was not filled with any bees, indicating that the fence had been successful despite the lack of occupation. If this is the same family group as the night before (which is Nashon’s suspicion), it could be that hearing bees the previous night was enough to deter the elephants from even an unoccupied hive. Or perhaps their memories go back even further and they avoided the fence from a previous run in with bees.
This experience allowed me to truly grasp the importance of The Elephants and Bees Project. Nashon is one of the hardest workers I have ever met, and his family is unbelievable sweet and kind hearted. To think that our work is helping to feed and protect this family lifted my spirits in an unimaginable way. All of the long hours in bee suits monitoring hives and harvesting honey was truly paying off. This was especially motivating for our last big project of the week: installing a new beehive fence for Daudi, a farmer in Mwambiti. This project put my strength to the test, as my first task was to carry an entire tree across the farm to be placed in the ground as a post for one of the beehives. I have to admit I was motivated when I saw Daudi in his old age lift up two large trees and place them on his shoulder as if he were picking up a twig. It was really a great team building exercise, as we all had to work together to hang up 15 beehive fences, along with a shade to cover each hive and 15 dummy hives to be placed in between. After monitoring and working on these fences for two weeks it was great to see the process from scratch and to fully appreciate how much time and effort goes into each individual farm. After a long eventful week I feel incredibly accomplished and excited for more adventures to come!