Reflections on Building the Research Center

Blog by Tara Easter, International Intern

On my way back home to the USA, I reflected on my time in Kenya with the Elephants and Bees Project and Save The Elephants…

That was the craziest, most random, and challenging adventure I’ve ever had in my life. The majority of my time there, I had no idea what I was doing! Yet, here I am, almost four months later leaving behind the official Elephants and Bees Research Center.

How strange is it that I now intimately know every employee at a hardware store in Voi, and that I have avoiding potholes in the dirt road to Mwakoma down to a science? I ate ugali and skuma wiki with my hands. I washed clothes with a scrub brush and bathed out of a bucket. I named elephants and wrangled with bees and tried my best to learn a bit of Swahili. I routinely shared tea with people who have completely different backgrounds and perspectives than I.

I helped build a research center that aims to reduce human-elephant conflict in the Tsavo ecosystem.

My experiences in Kenya will never be fully understood by folks back home, nor am I returning with a picture perfect album of African savannas full of the big five (although Tsavo was beautiful). My conservation work in the community was something that can never be taught in a classroom, and the lessons I learned along the way were quite a bit more difficult than I imagined. It takes a great deal of patience and understanding to live and work to conserve in a traditional village like Mwakoma, but the people are eager to learn, if you’re willing to teach.

That is why I am so excited about this center. Along with attracting scientists from around the globe to use Sagalla as their base for research (I myself hope to return as a graduate student), it also functions as a local resource for environmental education. A basic understanding of ecology and agricultural science could make a huge difference in the food security in this area, as well as increase their beehive occupancies and honey production of our beehive fence farmers.

I temporarily leave the center with confidence. An intensive pollination study is just getting started at the same time that Lucy and Dr. Joseph Soltis conduct their playback research on the Tsavo elephants. My friends and co-interns are working out ways to better predict when hives are ready for harvest and change the attitudes communities have towards wildlife, and new inquiries for volunteers, students, and interns are beginning to come in. We’ve had visitors such as Dr. Iain Douglas-Hamilton and Dr. Fritz Vollrath, the Zoological Society of London and the Tsavo Trust, and I predict more will come. I see huge potential in this center, and I cannot wait to see how it progresses.

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