Thursday, July 9, 2020
Honeyguide Adopts Chili Bombs and More to Protect Elephants, People
Saturday, May 18, 2019



The pink-billed honeyguide is so named because of its penchant for leading hunter-gatherers to wild beehives stashed in the cavities of baobab and other trees in the wooded savannahs of Africa.

The bird would fly near the hunters, getting their attention with a chirping noise. Then it would hover as the men scaled the trunks, smashing the hives and making off with the honey.

“The birds hope, of course, that the hunters will drop some of the honey on the ground for them to eat,” said Damian Bell, a native Tanzanian. “In fact, it was believed that if you didn’t do that the next time the bird would lead you to danger.”

It was this symbiotic relationship that Bell and others referred to when they founded the conservation group Honeyguide in 2007.

Today the organization pursues a symbiotic relationship between man, wildlife and the land as it works to enhance wildlife conservation in six wilderness area in Tanzania, including the Aboseli-Kilimanjaro, Serengeti-Mara and Tarangire-Manyara.

Bell and Sam Shaba will talk about Honeyguide’s efforts to reduce elephant poaching there during a free picture presentation at 3:30 p.m. Sunday, May 19, at Ketchum’s Community Library.

“Poaching is not the biggest threat,” said Bell, Honeyguide’s executive director. “Actually, it’s the loss of habitat due to agricultural expansion. If we can get communities to embrace and benefit from conservation, we can stop expansion of agricultural and keep the natural habitat these animals need.”

Bell and Shaba started their most recent storytelling journey in Florida where they discussed the threat to lions with the Wildlife Conservation Network in partnership with Disney. Disney wanted to learn what it could do to help as it prepares to launch “The Lion King,” a photorealistic computer animated remake of Disney’s 1994 animated film, in July 2019.

“The key thing is messaging that lions are under threat and explaining why it’s so important to have lions,” said Bell. “They’re under threat because of conflict with people from eating livestock and because of habitat loss.”

Lions are important to maintain biodiversity, Bell said. Without lions, the number of herbivores would become unmanageable. And they would eat too much vegetation for a healthy ecosystem.

Lions are also important to some African cultures, including the Maasai, said Bell.

“In that culture a boy became a warrior when he killed a lion. He then spent 15 years as a warrior before becoming an elder. So, the lion is an iconic animal for the Maasai.”

Bell and Shaba have come to Ketchum from Bend, Ore., where they took part in a conservation conference organized by the Nature Conservancy to bring together indigenous people from around the world to determine what’s been lost and what can be restored.

Honeyguide tries to help Tanzanian communities understand how conserving wildlife and wildlife habitat can become viable sources of livelihood, Bell said. In one community, he said, the locals complained that the elephants destroyed up to 70 percent of their crops each year.

Bell came up with a chili bomb made of a firecracker and chili stuffed in a condom that exploded as elephants approached crops. He then expanded on that by developing a toolkit that includes a bright  flashlight that’s jarring to the elephants’ eyesight.

Those tools cut the depredation rate from 70 percent to below 7 percent. Now, more than 800 volunteers work to keep the elephants from crops.

“We empower the indigenous to set up wildlife parks that work for them and nature,” Bell said. “It’s important to us that they can move to independence with sustainable solutions. We strive to leave in five years’ time with them able to stand on their own.”

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