NAIROBI — For years, villagers in a remote village near the northwestern town of Kitale in Kenya have counted loss of lives and crops with some forced to abandon their farms owing to escalating human-wildlife conflict.
The residents of Kitum village located on the slopes of the expansive Mt Elgon National Park had for many years borne the brunt of attack by wildlife but they have found an innovative way to overcome the menace.
During a recent afternoon, villagers were gathered under an acacia tree and women were busy serving hot tea and milk to both young and old men.
The villagers had convened to celebrate this season’s bumper harvest of maize, honey and bananas.
A group of men aged between 30 and 50 were engaged in thatching a traditional food granary as five elderly men quietly chanted words of blessing in the local dialect.
“We are here to celebrate a bumper harvest this year. Our fathers have brought us good yields,” Francis Kiboi, an elder said.
After counting several cobs of maize, Kiboi handed them to a group of youthful men seated in the middle of the crowd.
“This is a gift to you. You followed what your elders directed you to do and we have seen the results,” said Kiboi.
The youthful men were behind the new approach to stop elephants from straying to the local farms.
The introduction of beehive fencing in the farms near the park has seen villagers realize a bumper harvest this season. Other crops grown by the local farmers include beans, peas and onions.
Fewer people were trampled to death this year, thanks to the beehive fencing of the local homesteads.
The villagers said they unleash bees whenever they spot elephants coming to invade their farms and homes to keep them away.
Sophia Naibei who is aged 56 years understands the agony that fellow villagers have endured due to the human-wildlife conflict.
“We have employed various mechanisms such as lighting fire, erecting scarecrows and barriers to keep away the wild animals away but it never bear fruits,” said Naibei.
“We had to innovate effective non-lethal methods to manage the menace,” she added.
An electric fence erected by Kenya Wildlife Service (KWS) could neither solve the problem as the elephants found ways to subvert the barriers.
“The government through KWS tried to mitigate the conflict by repairing the 21 kilometer fence but the conflict did not stop as the animals found ways of subverting the barriers leaving us no option,” said Thomas Ndiema, a village elder.
He said that as the conflict with animals persisted, villagers came up with the idea of introducing beehives along the border with the park.
Elephant and bee project was born two years ago courtesy of Save the Elephant, Oxford University and Disney’s Animal Kingdom.
The agencies through the state department of livestock and Mt Elgon National Park management unveiled the program to end the human-wildlife conflict.
“Life has literally returned to the village. People had deserted the area due to wildlife attacks and destruction. The system has mitigated the conflict up to 85 percent and we are happy,” said Ben Masibo, the chairman of Mt Elgon Bee keeping group.
He said that apart from containing the human-wildlife conflict, the bee project has helped the park management to curb regular fire outbreaks emanating from illegal honey harvesting inside the park.
“The bee project has brought happiness in the village. We earn money from the activities,” said Masibo.
In 2019, villagers earned 500,000 shillings (about 4,650 U.S. dollars) from honey and target 20,000 dollars now that the project has been expanded.
“From the sale of honey I was able to enroll my son at a college to further his education and I support the project because it has stopped the animals from straying to our farms and homes,” said Teresa Ngeiywa, a mother of three.
Catherine Wambani, assistant director, Western Conservation region acknowledged that wildlife-human conflict has been a major threat to livelihoods.
“We have lost lives and crops in the past but the scenario has changed since we erected beehives in the area,” said Wambani.
She said that Mt Elgon National Park is home to over 200 elephants.