I am Fai Collins Ndi, a biodiversity conservationist from Cameroon. I am currently pursuing a Conversion MSc in Wildlife Resource Management in the University Bamenda. As one of the participants of the WildHub Conservation Catalyst programme, I am sharing these lessons learned with you about Human-Elephant Conflict (For more information about me, please see my bio here).
I had the pleasure of having a virtual interview with Esther Serem on Human Elephant Conflict Mitigation.
Esther Serem is a Community Outreach Manager at Save the Elephant Organization (http://savetheelephants.org), Kenya and also a Women’s Enterprise Project Officer and Research Center Bookkeeping Assistant. She has worked in a Human-Elephant Conflict dynamic environment as a Beehive Fence Training and Database Officer as well as a Research Monitoring and Database Officer.
Fai: Hello Esther, thank you for allowing me to interview you today. My first question for you is: in the process of long-term mitigation of Human Elephant Conflict (HEC), how can the following activities be carried out, evaluated and be more sustainable?
Firstly, educating pupils/students in schools on wildlife conservation. This includes the type of materials to be made available to students/pupils to ensure long term change of attitudes.
Esther: You can create a curriculum which includes Amphibians, Reptiles, Birds and Mammals, then concentrate on elephants and tell them why we should conserve them (the icons of the African continent). You could also carry out the following activities with them:
- Offer the pupils/students a trip to the park so they can see elephants and other animals. This will make them not regard elephants as enemies.
- Include life skills in the activities you carry out with them.
- Let them exercise and play dramas to bring confidence and creativity to the pupils/students.
- Create environmental clubs, train and provide materials for teachers to use in your absence.
- Save the elephants has a toolbox for Human and Elephant Coexistence which can be gotten through the link: https://ste-coexistence-toolbox.info and can be used for both schools and community sensitization.
Fai: How about the “train the trainer” scheme and the potential inclusion of ex-poachers to convince and support active poachers to stop this activity and seek alternative income means?
Esther: Ex-poachers should be provided with capacity building and other livelihood activities/options so that they can easily convince other poachers to quit poaching and join them. Poachers can never stop poaching when they do not have alternative livelihoods.
Fai: Can we educate and sensitize through the use of local radio programs?
Esther: Locals in the villages do not mostly have televisions, so sensitization through local radio stations is a best way to reach to a greater majority of the population, especially those who were not reached during sensitization activities in their communities.
Fai: In your opinion, what do you think are the most effective mitigation strategies for HEC, especially in forest zones?
Esther: Apart from those cited above,
- Beehive fences can do well in forest areas with a lot of trees with flowers to provide nectar. Elephants like any other animal are not acquainted with bee stings, so they turn to stay away from the farms and there is no crop raiding.
- Organize focus group discussions, use compensation schemes, and also educate communities on different mitigation strategies used in other countries.
- Educate farmers to plant chillies, sunflowers, and other unpalatable plants to elephants around their farms. You can link them to available markets for these crops and seeds of these plants can be provided at the beginning of the project but not continued.
- Focus on sustainability of projects. Introduce or capacitate the existing projects that can be owned and run by the community.
Look at the starting and maintenance costs as well as having an exit strategy if an organization or individuals are supporting the projects in a local community.
Fai: Finally, what type of message is the most important to convey and what do you think is the most powerful form to achieve this?
Esther: I would like to state that all information on wildlife conservation is important. You could use the information Save the Elephants have developed into a toolbox (https://ste-coexistence-toolbox.info) and help communities understand that elephants are not their enemies. Information on this website can be applied during both schools and community sensitizations.
Fai: Are there any lessons you have learned that you can share regarding mitigating HEC that could benefit the wider conservation community/people working on this topic?
Esther: While implementing projects, initial community engagements are crucial. Carrying out a background understanding of what communities use and would like to implement is important. You can strengthen the existing projects or implement a new one if the community shows interest.
For a new project, explanations of how the project works and the benefits that will bring to community as well as the anticipated challenges should be explained to avoid community withdrawals or reduced uptake.
I would like to emphasize that once you have implemented a project, visit the communities often to check if the proposed strategies are being used by the villagers. Assess the project and change or modify strategy depending on your findings. It's also important to apply many mitigation strategies at once so that elephants will not habituate to one.
Fai: Thank you Esther for sharing your experiences and expertise with a wider community on Wildhub. I would love to say that the toolbox from your organization you shared is very rich (the link: https://ste-coexistence-toolbox.info) and will benefit many people working to mitigate Human-Elephant Conflict.
Esther: Thank you for selecting me from a wide community on Wildhub for this interview.
It’s my wish to share this knowledge and these materials so it benefits many conservationists around the world.
Fai: To the Wildhub community, I want to thank Esther for taking the time to do this interview with me and share her lessons learned with the rest of the community.
I would also like to thank my coach, Lize Gibson Hall (Wildhub Assistant Community Manager) and also Thirza Loffeld (Wildhub Community Manager) for the amazing work they are doing to ensure that conservation knowledge is spread through a wide community and a huge thank you to Esther for giving her time to conduct this interview and share her expertise.