When wildlife conservation meets community livelihoods

Blogpost by Kenyan Intern, Jocelyn Wela 

Nature conservation can cause conflicts when there are incompatible interests in environmental resources. This mostly occurs when conservation interferes with the locals economic activities (Joas et al., 2012). National parks and related forest conservation programs generally originate in national and international centers, that are established where people live and use resources, and often impose livelihood costs on rural people (Schelhas et al., 2010). However, in recent days, new environmental values that integrated conservation and livelihood needs have been developed.

A case in point is Save the Elephants -Elephants and Bees Project that was initiated by Dr. Lucy King to enable Sagalla farmers in Voi –Kenya, neighbours to Tsavo East National Park to coexist with elephants in the area. The project has resulted in improvement in the locals attitudes and behavior towards elephants and other wild animals since they have gained a better understanding that land use changes have played a major role in increase of human elephant conflicts in the region.

The Elephants and Bees Project has brought back life and hope for the people in Sagalla. The previously feared and despised elephants are now perceived as part of the community. The Research Centre is strategically located at the heart of the Sagalla Community in Mwakoma village at the foot hill of Sagalla hills. Its location enables it to effectively mitigate human wildlife conflicts in the area and execute livelihood projects that have been a great contribution the area.

The project employs the use of bees among other simple, affordable and effective tools to deter elephants from raiding farms. Not only have the elephants been kept off farms but the project has brought in many benefits for both the conservationists and local people as summarized below.

Benefits to wildlife biologists and conservationists

The Elephants and Bees Research Center is directly involved in data collection through elephant tracking and monitoring, beehive fence construction and maintenance, GIS mapping of farms in the area and use of camera traps to observe elephant activities in the area. The data collected is used to publish literature that is shared to wildlife conservation organizations worldwide. Since the initiation of the program in Samburu Kenya, the use of bees to scare away crop raiding elephants had been widely adopted and implement in various countries across the globe.

Bees are great pollinators and when wild bees do not visit agricultural fields, managed honeybee hives are often the only solution for farmers to ensure crop pollination as applied in Sagalla. The only way to constantly mix the genes for the plants is by cross-pollination, where pollen from one plant is transported by bees to another so that the offspring become genetically different. In that way, there is a greater chance for at least some of the offspring to survive competition. Other animal species are connected with bees: either because they eat the brood or honey, pollen or wax, they are parasitic to the bees, or simply because they live within the bees nest. Bees play a great role in conservation and clearly uniformity is not nature’s way, diversity is!

Bees are key indicators for global warming. The population trends evidenced by the rate of beehive occupancy is helpful in assessing the impact of increased temperature on honey bees. There were notably more unoccupied bee hives in 2018 due to long dry spells and high temperatures. While late 2019 has recorded relatively higher occupancy rates due to adequate and timely rains in Sagalla area. This was positively reflected in the increased beehive occupancy rate on most of the farms. The rainfall records indicating rainfall patterns in the area are also important in determining which crops are suitable for planting and specific farming period. This data is important in the preparation of mitigation of elephant conflicts since more conflicts occur during rainy season when farmers grow crops which results in elephants frequently raiding their farms.

Tracking data has also been used in monitoring of crop raiding elephants and involving local stakeholders like KWS in translocation of such problematic animals hence reducing human wildlife conflicts in the area.

The newest project of erecting watch towers at strategic places as indicated by tracking and monitoring data will be a great in controlling elephant movement in the villages and effectively directing them out of farms as they will be easily visible.

Economic Importance

Honey is collected by farmers and they are assisted in processing it at the Centre. They afterwards sell it back to the project or in external readily available markets thus a great source of income for the community

Crop farming has been made easier through use of the beehive fences. Farmers are able to raise crops to maturity and the products harvested are a source of food as well as income.

The Sagalla women basket weaving project received boosting from E&B Research Centre through provision of safe working environment and expansion of market base. They previously worked under baobab trees which was quite hard to operate due to unpredictable weather and lack of shelter.

The centre has created employment for the local people with several of them securing jobs at the facility. The living standards of most of them have greatly improved.

 Social benefits

Women have been empowered to weave more baskets and sell them. This has reduced domestic conflicts as they previously over relied on men as soul breadwinners. Stable source of income also means reduced levels of poverty.

STE program offers weekly environmental classes to the pupils at Kileva Primary School which is a great initiate since the future of environmental conservation belongs to younger generations.

Best performing pupils in the national exams are awarded a scholarship for their high school education which thus the literacy levels in Sagalla area are improving over time.

The health benefits of honey are widely known and the Sagalla people are therefore privileged to be harvesting this amazing product in their farms.

In conclusion, the Elephant and Bees Research Centre has brought tremendous changes in Sagalla area. The future looks even brighter for them with the construction of a Women’s Enterprise Centre set to kick off before the end of the year. Farmers have also been educated on planting of non-palatable crops such as chilies and sunflowers that will increase their farm produce and source of income while reducing elephant crop raids. Further to this, a bigger project to deliver piped water in the villages will soon be rolled out. Sagalla’s future is definitely bright!

Photo credits: AnneMarie Russ

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

Joas, M., Jahn, D., & Kern, K. (2012). Governing a Common Sea: Environmental Policies in the Baltic Sea Region. Routledge.

Schelhas, J., & Pfeffer, M. J. (2010). When global conservation meets local livelihoods: People and parks in Central America. Revista Geografica de America Central 45:77-101, 45, 77–101.


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