The Elephants and Bees Community
Report by International Intern, Ewan Brennan
Community-based conservation projects – protecting wildlife while improving the livelihoods of local people – can be one of those rare, truly win-win situations where both local communities and wildlife enjoy the benefits. Before I arrived at the Elephants & Bees Project, I figured protection of crops from raiding elephants and additional income from honey production would make for pretty great community benefits. Being virtually safe from the potential of losing your entire seasons crop to a group of huge and hungry elephants must be quite a reassurance.
However, I soon came to realise the project offers many less immediately obvious benefits to the locals of Sagalla, the foremost being the incredible sense of community it helps sustain. The research centre serves as a central meeting point for all members of the surrounding villages, often being used several times each week by the various community groups. At the local school, the environmental education, weekly movie night and farm club build strong, positive relationships between the E&B team and the schoolchildren – joint after-school football games and high-5s in the street are common events. It’s not just the school children either – wherever you might be, pretty much everyone will greet you and be eager for a chat.
The beehive farmers themselves are quite a bunch. Every one hard working and enthusiastic about his or her beehive fence, they are a pleasure to spend time with. Always accompanying you during monitoring, tracking or night work, they are keen to share anecdotes about their shambas or find out more about how you ended up in Sagalla. I was very much left with the impression that they were envied by many other non-beehive fence farmers in the community.
The sense of community and teamwork is also strong within the research camp. With a diverse, energetic, like-minded team, day-to-day responsibilities and issues are quickly taken care of with minimal fuss. Despite the dynamic nature of the camp, everyone is more than willing to get involved and help out with each other’s projects to make sure everything runs smoothly. The team spirit persists into the evenings and weekends too – hanging out and relaxing in camp or at one of the surrounding lodges was always great fun.
This sense of community – something that is of great importance in any conservation project – has been a definite internship highlight for me. When people share attitudes and work towards the same goals, I believe progress is far more easily achieved. It’s been an invaluable learning experience and quite the exciting adventure – I feel very fortunate to have been part of such a fascinating and successful project, and hope that I can be back in Sagalla before too long!