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  • Writer's pictureEPI Secretariat

Meha Kumar - Friend of the Month

Meha tying a cowbell in a farm in Sagalla, near Tsavo National Park. Cowbells are one of the methods Save the Elephants uses to reduce conflict between elephants and people.  © Save the Elephants

 

Our friend of the month this April is Meha Kumar, who works as a researcher at Save the Elephants (STE), focusing on Human-Elephant Coexistence (HEC). She is part of the team that developed a HEC Toolbox, which is a 200-page manual that provides guidance on innovative elephant-friendly deterrents, offering practical advice and tools to minimise conflict with elephants and protect property and resources.

 

The Elephant Protection Initiative works with Save the Elephants to foster human-elephant coexistence within Africa. Recently, the EPI sent some of its national focal points to the Training of Trainers course in Tsavo National Park, facilitated by STE. This course equips attendees to help communities live harmoniously with elephants in conflict hotspots. Meha was part of the STE training staff on the ground. 


Tell us more about where you are from, your background, and how it may have influenced your passion for conservation.

 

I was born and raised in Nairobi, Kenya and I hold a Bachelor's degree in Zoology from the University of Nairobi. I always remember being very passionate about the protection of wildlife all through my formative years. This passion has continued to grow over the years inspired by the amazing work done by famous wildlife conservationists like our founder Dr. Iain Douglas-Hamilton and others who have worked alongside him towards this noble cause.

 

In your experience researching about, and working with wildlife, what has been the highlight of your career?

 

There are many highlights in my line of work, but one that remains close to my heart is seeing the difference our Human-Elephant Coexistence Toolbox is making across communities that are living closest to elephants and are in the frontline when it comes to competition with elephants for resources like food, water, and space.

 

It’s great to be a part of this mission that has seen Save the Elephants introduce and help implement practical solutions such as bee-hive fences and other non-lethal deterrents detailed in the HEC Toolbox, that have proven effective in reducing conflict incidents while empowering local communities. Through this, we are steadily pushing the needle towards harmonious coexistence, with immense promise in furthering conservation efforts and protecting these magnificent creatures for generations to come. 

 


Meha presenting during the Trainer of Trainers Workshop in Sagalla, near Tsavo National Park © Save the Elephants

 

Let’s talk about the training that happened recently in Tsavo. What is the impact you’re working to create in human-elephant coexistence in the next decade?

 

In February 2024, we hosted individuals from Ethiopia, Malawi, Tanzania, and Kenya for our inaugural international Human-Elephant Coexistence Training of Trainers (ToT) workshop.  The ToT workshop is a three-day event where potential trainees such as community leaders are invited to be trained on how various innovative mitigation methods from the HEC Toolbox are implemented. Several of these methods have been deployed in the Sagalla Community (Tsavo) where trainees get an opportunity to understand the conflict directly from the farmers’ perspectives and see them working in action.

 

Our goal is to empower the trainees with the right tools and practical solutions to mitigate human-elephant conflict and promote coexistence. The trainees then become trainers within their localities, sharing knowledge and insights from the HEC Toolbox on how to live more in harmony with elephants. We strongly believe that achieving a harmonious future between elephants and people hinges on fostering strong connections with local communities. This programme has so far produced 91 graduates from 14 different organisations and communities and takes place monthly.

 

We will continue working towards securing a future for elephants and sustaining the ecological integrity of the places they live in, as we develop a tolerant relationship between elephants and people.

 

While working with the research team in Samburu, what are some of the most fascinating insights you gained from interacting with the community in relation to human-elephant conflict?

 

The Samburu community has developed a fascinating connection with elephants through the years, fostering respect and a mutual understanding when it comes to sharing resources. Within the Samburu National Reserve, elephants have been observed to be calmer and at ease, as opposed to areas outside the reserve. This provides a spectacular platform to understand their behaviour, as well as the culture of the Samburu community.

 


Meha in the field with Dr. Iain-Douglas Hamilton, founder of Save the Elephants. @ Save the Elephants

 

Is there any story you can share that keeps you hopeful for wildlife conservation?

 

Save the Elephants was part of The Elephant Queen outreach programme’s ground-breaking mobile cinema, which travelled the length and breadth of Kenya for two years.

 

The Elephant Queen (TEQ) follows the lives of a Tsavo elephant herd  - led by the matriarch Athena -  their quest for water, and the extensive journeys they undertake for survival during droughts, emphasising their role as environmental architects crucial to numerous other species. Following global screenings and multiple international awards, the filmmakers had the script translated into Kiswahili and Maa (the language of the Maasai and Samburu tribes) and began touring Kenya to provide rural communities with insights into the true nature of elephants.

 

The film was shown on large inflatable screens erected in local communities – at schools, in marketplaces and other public areas. Within two years, the Elephant Queen outreach programme visited nearly 300 schools, and over 200 villages, and engaged with more than 135,000 people.

 

As part of this, surveys were conducted before and after the screenings, coupled with interviews with key community figures. The surveys targeted communities surrounding national parks and known to suffer from high levels of human-elephant conflict. 

 

The survey results showed that films like TEQ have the potential to reshape attitudes and garner support for elephants in rural communities. Published in the journal of People and Nature, the study showed that 86.7% of community viewers (aged 16-85)  who saw ‘The Elephant Queen' felt the film changed their attitudes towards elephants. On average 79% of viewers believed the film would change their interactions with elephants in the future. 88.4% of viewers felt the film could change their whole community’s relationship with elephants.

 

As mentioned above, a harmonious future between elephants and people hinges on fostering strong connections with local communities. Seeing community views and attitudes towards elephants changing positively keeps me optimistic that we are winning their hearts and minds, one step at a time.

 

Looking ahead on a personal level, what are your dreams and ambitions for the conservation of Kenya’s elephants? 

 

I am always excited about being part of an amazing team that is pushing the boundaries when it comes to understanding elephants and learning how to live successfully with them. It is my goal to continue to adding value to our research team, as we identify more ways through which humans and elephants can coexist peacefully. Elephants are highly intelligent creatures, and continuing to understand them will ensure that we give them a voice and a future in a dynamic world.

 

 

 

 

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