Precious Wabongo


Tara Easter, International Intern

Date Published

Part of our many jobs as interns on the Elephants and Bees Project in Tsavo is to start laying the foundation for larger research questions about our beehive fences, such as, what makes bees happy? In other words, why are some hives or entire farms more occupied than others? So far, we haven’t had too much time to dive into all the different components of these questions because we’ve poured all of our energy in simply repairing all the fences and getting them back up to code.

But despite the endless list of maintenance needs, one shamba has had undeniable success, and I only just found out why.

Wabongo, a precious mzee (old man, respectfully) had 9 out of 11 hives occupied at the end of the rainy season. Having lost 2 occupations next to each other and finding dead bees all around, he called us one morning concerned, asking us to come check on things. A former Elephants and Bees colleague, Robert, and I turned up to speak with him, and he took us around his fence.

Most of the farmer’s know enough English to communicate to me the main needs and concerns of their fence, but Wabongo knows none. He talked as Robert translated, and for the first time, our visit was not rushed and I was able to get to know him and his attitudes towards the fence. He led us over to the recently vacated hive and explained that when the bees didn’t come out to drink water for a couple days, he knew they were gone and checked inside. I asked how often he gives them water, to which he told Robert, “everyday”. Well no wonder he’s kept so many bees!

Shocked, I probed for more information. Wabongo walks his fenceline every morning, filling bottles and cans around the hives with water, and then going back around to add sugar. He covers the water with sticks to prevent the birds from interfering, and when the sources run dry on a hot day, he fills them again.

Like other farmers, Lucy had given him sunflower seeds in the hope that the flowers would attract more bees. When the flowers stopped pollinating, he covered them with plastic to save the seeds from birds so he can plant more next season. He left some open because he still sees the bees going to them, he said.

In previous years, he noticed that everyone’s posts had trouble surviving the rainy season. So when others were beginning to plant crops, he first replaced his posts with stronger ones. Living alone and growing in age, he often hires a young man to cut these posts, but will not pay if he brings back posts that are too short!

He said the other beehive fence farmers were just interested in the honey, but he knows that his fence means food security, and without it, the elephants will come. “Lucy was kind enough to come and build this fence to protect my crops. It’s why I make sure to take care of it. I know without taking care of it, the elephants will come,” Robert translated to me.

I wanted to hug Wabongo, but I knew he would have been a bit confused by it.

As our center nears completion, our first official community meeting will involve gathering all the beehive farmers together to share stories, chat about what they’ve been doing on their shambas, and discuss the nyuki. I hope the others will learn from this wonderful mzee.

As for the dead bees in Wabongo’s hive, well, that’s a research question for the scientists that our new center will attract! Wabongo, clearly, is doing all he can to keep the nyuki around.