‘Tis the season

Field Report by Intern Adams Kipchumba, Elephants and Bees Project 

“I hurt my leg in the farm while I rushed to hand a vuvuzela to my husband, he was chasing the elephants out of the farm”

“Tell the KWS to come and take their elephants back to the park”

“They came from that end and did their thing; you can go and see for yourself”

“Last night, they came in batches, some at 10pm, others at 2pm”

Adams conducting a crop-raid assessment in a farm in Sagalla. Photo: Victor Ndombi

 

Statements such as these coming from distraught farmers are something you get to hear every day when conducting elephant crop raid assessments at the eastern slopes of Sagalla Hills where Elephants and Bees Project’s Research Center is based. Crops are ripening up in the shambas, unfortunately, this also indicates the start of the elephant crop raiding season. KWS personnel shooting in the air as early as 5pm signals the start of the almost daily cat and mouse chase with the elephants. In the advent of the coronavirus, the community now has to not only grapple with government curfew but also the curfew imposed on them by elephant.

Crop raiding is the dominant form of human-elephant conflict and the eastern slopes of Sagalla hills offers a canvas to paint this picture vividly. This stretch of land at the foothill is right at the interface with between elephant tolerant conservancies and community agricultural land. The elephants leave a trail of destruction on farms as they march through the landscape. Farmers have to light bonfires and stay guard for when the elephants march up at the early night and wait till they march back down to the ranches adjacent to the community agricultural lands.

In Sagalla, you have two sets of crops grown by farmers; 1) ‘elephant palatable crops’ – which is also the most grown, often consisting of maize, green grams and cowpeas; and 2) ‘elephant non-palatable crops’, mainly sunflower and chilli. Growers of the former experience the full extent of what elephant crop raids entail, the latter, less so if none.

Maize trampled by marauding elephants. Photo: Jasper Scofield

 

Now, to tourists and conservationists, elephants are a sight to behold, but to a farmer staying awake the whole night protecting his/her farm, week in week out, the elephant often comes off as a pest. In the effort to promote human-elephant co-existence, it’s also the season that offers a chance for Elephants and Bees Project to see how effective the beehive fences are. In the same breath, it’s time to observe elephant behaviour towards the non-palatable crop farms and trialing novel deterrent methods such as the smelly elephant repellent and the buzzbox.

You do observe a change of attitude in the farmers when you stay a step ahead of the elephants in outwitting them. You then get positive statements like;

“As you can see the flashlight coming from the farm right down there next to mine, he’ll do that all night trying to ward off elephants, myself on the other hand, I’ll be fast asleep”.

“They did come to the beehive fence but as you can see for yourself, they went back”

No deterrent is a panacea to the menace that is crop raids, it is advised that a cocktail of deterrents would mitigate the raids. Elephants are smart, it therefore goes without saying that we need to devise  novel elephant deterrents or consider a change in our agricultural practices to stay a step ahead of elephants and to champion human-elephant co-existence.

Photo of sunflowers in a beehive fence protected farm. Photo: Jasper Scofield

 

Postscriptum

The few number of times I have been at the watchtower next to the water pan in Mwakoma village, I have seen members of the community come to watch the elephants quench their thirst as the KWS stand by waiting to disperse the elephants once they have had their fill.

 

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

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