The day of the beehives…
14 December, 2010
I felt very privileged last week to meet PhD student Lucy King who completed her research on the behavioural responses of elephants towards bees. Anyone who has watched ‘The Secret Life of Elephants’ will have seen a snippet of her work; this research has indicated that elephants are in fact afraid of the sound of a swarm, which can now be used as a deterrent against crop raiding and a progressive resolution to human-elephant conflict. Not only may it be possible for villagers to sleep soundly at night, knowing that their crops would be safe, but also for them to benefit from the nutrition and the sale of the honey, providing it can be harvested properly. I accompanied Lucy and her local research assistant (and translator!) Wilson to the community, Ngara Mara, where we were going to monitor the hives that had been erected around some of the farms there. We had only just been commenting on the lack of rain in Samburu, only to find that clearly this had not been the case in Ngara Mara. As we drove off the highway and made our way into the hills, there was a beautiful crisp contrast of lush green grass against the dark brown bark of the trees and scattered donkeys and their young munching away at it – the definition of organic, free range! As per the apparent tradition here of picking up various random people to give them a ride to somewhere along the route you are going on, Lucy’s little car became brimmed out with locals clinging to their babies, their bags of tomatoes or their walking sticks and I wondered if we would make it up the steep incline of rocks to the other side.
When we arrived at our first stop, we realised that the small, but usually bustling little village was empty and that aid workers in the area were giving out goats! Of course everyone had gone to take advantage of this random gift of good will, so we took some pictures with the local children and then headed over to a great little plot of land to discuss the placement of the existing hives and to check if they were being occupied. Of course the elephants being as smart as they are had figured that if the bees are blocking their entry on that side of the crops, they will just go around and use the other side instead! The owner of the patch of crops however was building a little house there, so Lucy decided this would be a good enough deterrent and that the hives could be left where they are just as long as they could be adjusted to cut closer to the crops, in order to make better use of the space and block another potential path for the elephants. We made two more stops like this one and it was so wonderful to see the faces of hope, gratitude and the willingness to work with the project. It turns out there is a lot more to it than simply attempting to put up beehives around a plantation and Lucy says it is still a working progress, but what a joy and a learning experience to actually witness something that can truly help people and wildlife to peacefully co-exist. One other goal for the day was to get a blessing from the village elders for the BBC to come and film their farms in January and attempt to get some unique night time footage of elephant activity. By a stroke of luck two of the females that were collared recently have proven to be some of the crop raiding culprits, so the two things will provide some great insight into their behaviour. I’ll look forward to the update. What an interesting day… thank you Lucy!