Painting the Project

Field Report by International Intern, Tatiana Chapman 

This project is about more than just elephants and bees.  Although it’s primary focus is on bee hive fences, the project has necessarily grown and developed to include so many more facets. Conservation rarely nowadays stands alone as primarily focused on animal welfare. Instead a more holistic perspective is adopted and the whole environment and all living things in it are taken into account. Save the Elephants moto and purpose is living in harmony with elephants – this involves people, animals, crops and much more. There is a constant stream of ideas and experiments going on here about how best to live in a semi-arid environment that is home to many elephants and this kind of experimentation is essential to making conservation in the 21st century a success.

Bee hive fences are effective but they are not full proof. A key strength of them is the fact that they are compatible with so many other methods in reducing the impact from elephant crop raiding. A tool box of ideas has been, and continues to be, created in order to facilitate a life where nature isn’t regarded as a separate entity to humans.

A key project therefore within Elephants and Bee’s is how to farm effectively within such an area. Traditionally, all the farmers here have mainly planted maize. Elephants love maize. Crop raiding is therefore fairly inevitable. Maize is the stable food so it is hard to move away from this and change is bound to meet some resistance. One of the most recent pushes that Elephant and Bees have been aiming for is to encourage people to plant crops that are non-palatable to elephants to improve food security. Two key plants are sunflowers and chillies. Of course there are only so many sunflower seeds, oil and chillies one person can consume, therefore necessarily there must be a market found for these products to be sold and generate money. The processing of non-palatable crops into products such as oil and jams will be a key element of the soon-to-be built women’s enterprise centre – another project aimed at generating alternative incomes and minimising the shock of elephant crop-raids for the worst effected group (women).

In order to demonstrate how best to farm sustainably and effectively in innovative ways, Victor has been hard at work in his almighty permaculture garden which borders Kileva Primary School. Recycling tyres, sacks, tins and anything he can get his hands on, the permaculture is thriving, full of delicious looking spinach, kales and much more. He is demonstrating the benefits of vertical farming, using sacks to hold up to 70 seedlings, producing large quantities of food in a severely reduced space, minimising the need for weeding and enabling crops to be better protected. The food produced in this garden is given to the school in order to supplement the student’s lunches and dramatically increase its nutritional value. The children often help Victor in the garden and thus young enthusiasm is growing for farming in ways that is compatible with living in harmony with elephants.

The school kitchen stands next door to the permaculture, looking out on it. Its bare face was begging for a mural to be painted on it. I leaped at the chance. So many elements go into living in harmony with elephants. How to paint this in a picture?

I adore painting and one of my favourite thing to paint is the almighty elephant with their charismatic ears, swinging trunks and deep wrinkles. This was naturally what I started with. The Tsavo elephants are quite startlingly red due to the deep colour of the soil and thus this fact (and my lack of grey or black paint) meant that this elephant was going to be one colourful guy.

With the elephant firmly in place I started to ponder how to fit him into an appropriate background. The colourful soil next:

For a mural it was clear that the best non-palatable crop to make the painting look pretty would have to be sunflowers. Thus yellow heads started to appear to frame the window:

The whole picture needed to be naturalised into the surroundings therefore I painted trees and bushes to soften the buildings impact. After this I added some chilies. Chilies are detested by elephants and other successful deterrent methods involve chilli bombs and chilli fences.

Of course bee hives had to be in there too as the corner stone of the project. Lastly I added some bees buzzing around to help pollinate these organic plants and deter elephants away from any maize that would be growing within the bee-hive fence.

With all these different elements combined in my mural I hope to convey some of the ways demonstrated here about how to live with elephants in harmony. I fascinated many of the school children who would crowd round me at lunch times to watch the colours being slashed onto the walls in my typical slightly crazy way.

Creativity makes this project thrive and I hope I did that justice.

Photo credits: Tatiana Chapman

The views, opinions and position expressed in this article belong solely to the author and do not necessarily reflect the policy and position of Save the Elephants

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