Tag Archives: Kenya

Elephants as Political Actors

By Lauren A. Evans, Space for GiantsNanyuki, Kenya, and Williams M. Adams, University of Cambridge, UK

This video clip was caught by a camera trap positioned along an electric fence built to keep wild elephants away from smallholder farms in Kenya.  It shows a group of male African elephants, banded together to break the fence to raid farmers’ fields. It shows a distinct leader who breaks the fence while the others follow. In such raids, this elephant is often bigger, older and takes more risks.  In our Transactions of the British Institute of Geographers paper we show that these elephants are powerful and influential actors in human-elephant conflict (especially crop-raiding) and in shaping the politics that surrounds their conservation.

Our study site was a human-elephant conflict hotspot – Laikipia in northern Kenya – and a hotbed of diverse human actors (smallholder farmers, large-scale landowners, pastoralists, conservationists, national wildlife department the Kenya Wildlife Service) with different and often conflicting politics relating to land and elephants. We worked closely with the NGO Space for Giants.

The major challenge of bringing elephants to life as actors is that they can’t speak. We needed a creative methodology to understand the elephant experience as much as the human. We used infrared camera traps and GPS collars to directly observe elephant movement across landscapes and behaviour at fences. An elephant tracker observed crop-raiding elephants on a motorbike equipped with a camera and GPS. A network of local scouts collected information on the timing location and nature of fence-breaks and crop-raids.  We used interviews, questionnaires, and focus groups to understand human ideas about and responses to elephants, crop-raiding and fences.

Laikipia’s colonial and post-colonial land polices created a mosaic of land use. The British colonial government evicted Maasai pastoralists and settled Europeans on large-scale ranches. After independence some settlers sold their ranches and they were divided into small plots and bought by smallholder farmers.  Agriculture was hard here: land was dry and rocky so many plots were abandoned, leaving scattered subsistence farms.

Elephants were post-colonial arrivals to Laikipia in the 1970s, driven by insecurity and ivory poaching to the north. Ranches provided ideal ‘elephant spaces’ – contiguous habitat where elephants thrived. They arrived as powerful actors, protected by legislation to reduce poaching and ivory trade.  Yet elephants created a major problem for smallholder farmers. Subsistence farms with ripe crops, lay right next to ranches. When elephants raid crops, they impose their own interests on a landscape intensively used by people, and transform farmland into a “beastly place”.  Despite simple defenses have little capacity to defend their ripening crops against raids by elephants at night. Elephants hold the balance of power.

Data from GPS collars worn by crop-raiding elephants indicate an awareness and avoidance of risk. Elephants leave spaces where they feel safe and enter farmland only when the risk of injury to them from people is low (at night, when few people are around), and they raid crops where farms are scattered rather than concentrated and lie near to elephant habitat. They move faster when they leave the safety of ranches and move into farms, reflecting their awareness of heightened risk.  An electric fence was built along the boundaries of ranches to separate Laikipia into space for elephants and for farming. But elephants frequently break this fence and resisted the human ordering of the landscape, again at night, where it had a low voltage and gave a low shock, and where it was situated close to crops. Elephants impose cost and risk on farmers, and do so in a way that minimises risk and maximises opportunity for themselves.

We found distinct individual behaviour among the elephants we studied. Groups of male elephants break fences (average six, maximum 12). But three bulls – aptly known as Ismael, Nelson, Ananais to Space for Giants – carried out over 70% of fence-breaks in one year. All three were between 35 and 40 years old.  By watching breaks directly and through camera traps we found that these bulls were “breakers” – they physically broke the fence, while a group of younger smaller “follower” bulls waited to cross once the fence had been broken by the breaker. Groups of elephants always had one “breaker” in it, often with the same followers, and young adolescent bulls that would come and go.

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Fence-breaking behaviour, therefore, seems to be “learned” and “taught” among bull elephant society. Young bulls associate with more experienced bulls and learn risky behaviour. “Breaker” bulls represented a frontline of risk-taking bulls – elephants willing to face the risk of injury/mortality posed by humans to raid crops.  In Laikipia, it was the behaviour of these “breakers” in space and time that ultimately shaped the human–elephant relationship with smallholders.

To reduce crop raiding, the Kenya Wildlife Service (KWS) de-tusked some “breaker” elephants – removing part of the tusk to make it harder to break electric fences. Yet elephants invented new ways to break the fence with their stumped tusks and with their feet, body and trunks. KWS then anesthetized 12 of the most prolific breakers and translocated them some 200km away to Meru National Park. After a year, the fence was broken as frequently as before, now by three former – “follower” elephants. Meanwhile, the translocated animals had introduced fence-breaking to Meru National Park, where the fence had never been broken before.

As a species and as individuals, elephants are powerful, political actors, determined to maintain landscapes as a shared space whatever the wishes of their human neighbours.  To accommodate the individuality, vibrancy, and adaptability of elephants in human occupied landscapes, the management of human-elephant conflict needs to become more dynamic. Protected areas are too small and rigidly conceived to accommodate the needs of elephants to move, and their capacity to enforce this movement by crossing barriers erected to stop them.  Human-elephant conflict needs to be understood as emerging from interactions of individual elephants and people in specific landscapes, rather than as a standard problem likely to be tackled effectively by a standard solution. It needs to pay close attention to the individual behaviours, social dynamics and associations of elephants as actors, their predilection for crops and their tolerance of risk.

Evans L. A., Adams W. M. Elephants as actors in the political ecology of human–elephant conflict. Trans Inst Br Geogr. 2018;00:1–16. https://doi.org/10.1111/tran.12242

 

 

 

 

 

RGS-IBG New Content Alert: Early View Articles (25th May 2012)

The following Early View articles are now available on Wiley Online Library.

Original Articles

Soil hydrodynamics and controls in prairie potholes of central Canada
T S Gala, R J Trueman and S Carlyle
Article first published online: 23 MAY 2012 | DOI: 10.1111/j.1475-4762.2012.01103.x

Paying for interviews? Negotiating ethics, power and expectation
Daniel Hammett and Deborah Sporton
Article first published online: 23 MAY 2012 | DOI: 10.1111/j.1475-4762.2012.01102.x

Domestication and the dog: embodying home
Emma R Power
Article first published online: 23 MAY 2012 | DOI: 10.1111/j.1475-4762.2012.01098.x

Adapting water management to climate change: Putting our science into practice

Runoff attenuation features: a sustainable flood mitigation strategy in the Belford catchment, UK
A R Nicholson, M E Wilkinson, G M O’Donnell and P F Quinn
Article first published online: 22 MAY 2012 | DOI: 10.1111/j.1475-4762.2012.01099.x

Commentary

Geography, libertarian paternalism and neuro-politics in the UK
Mark Whitehead, Rhys Jones, Jessica Pykett and Marcus Welsh
Article first published online: 21 MAY 2012 | DOI: 10.1111/j.1475-4959.2012.00469.x

Subaltern geopolitics: Libya in the mirror of Europe
James D Sidaway
Article first published online: 11 MAY 2012 | DOI: 10.1111/j.1475-4959.2012.00466.x

Original Articles

Faith and suburbia: secularisation, modernity and the changing geographies of religion in London’s suburbs
Claire Dwyer, David Gilbert and Bindi Shah
Article first published online: 22 MAY 2012 | DOI: 10.1111/j.1475-5661.2012.00521.x

Mobile nostalgias: connecting visions of the urban past, present and future amongst ex-residents
Alastair Bonnett and Catherine Alexander
Article first published online: 22 MAY 2012 | DOI: 10.1111/j.1475-5661.2012.00531.x

Dalits and local labour markets in rural India: experiences from the Tiruppur textile region in Tamil Nadu
Grace Carswell
Article first published online: 22 MAY 2012 | DOI: 10.1111/j.1475-5661.2012.00530.x

The Korean Thermidor: on political space and conservative reactions
Jamie Doucette
Article first published online: 18 MAY 2012 | DOI: 10.1111/j.1475-5661.2012.00528.x

‘Faith in the system?’ State-funded faith schools in England and the contested parameters of community cohesion
Claire Dwyer and Violetta Parutis
Article first published online: 18 MAY 2012 | DOI: 10.1111/j.1475-5661.2012.00518.x

The short-run impact of using lotteries for school admissions: early results from Brighton and Hove’s reforms
Rebecca Allen, Simon Burgess and Leigh McKenna
Article first published online: 16 MAY 2012 | DOI: 10.1111/j.1475-5661.2012.00511.x

Learning electoral geography? Party campaigning, constituency marginality and voting at the 2010 British general election
Ron Johnston and Charles Pattie
Article first published online: 16 MAY 2012 | DOI: 10.1111/j.1475-5661.2012.00527.x

Hidden histories made visible? Reflections on a geographical exhibition
Felix Driver
Article first published online: 16 MAY 2012 | DOI: 10.1111/j.1475-5661.2012.00529.x

‘Read ten thousand books, walk ten thousand miles’: geographical mobility and capital accumulation among Chinese scholars
Maggi W H Leung
Article first published online: 15 MAY 2012 | DOI: 10.1111/j.1475-5661.2012.00526.x

The School Run: a comparison of educational geographies between London and Kenya

by Fiona Ferbrache

This morning, as I walked to University, I was passed by runners, cyclists, buses, taxis and cars. What a choice we have available for reaching our work places or making the school run.  A report by the BBC (Crompton, 2011) last month, drew attention to the school run in Kamuneru, Kenya (a highland area in the north-west of the country) as literally that: a walk or jog to reach class each day.

Travel by foot is the only means of transport for many families in this Kenyan area, and long distances (the report commented on one child travelling 20km from their home to school each day) are undertaken in bare feet and on poor unsurfaced roads.  Geography matters! For one child, these distances offers the opportunity to train athletically everyday, by running to school, but for another pupil, the journey held little for her to be positive about.

Hamnett and Butler (2011) tell us that “Geography matters” for children and education in the UK too.  Here, the distance that one lives from school has become an important criterion for allocating places to pupils.  Through a critical analysis of distance-based policies in East London, Hamnett and Butler argue that this system reproduces unequal access to educational resources, and can be amplified inter-generationally.  They also indicate that hierarchies of school popularity/unpopularity have developed, partially as a result of the value placed on distance.

These two examples reveal how geography matters in London and Kamuneru, in terms of distance to schools, but in very different ways.

  Crompton, V. (2011) The school run in Kenya’s highlands. BBC News: Education and Family. 10 October, 2011.

  Hamnett, C. & Butler, T. (2011) ‘Geography matters’: the role distance plays in reproducing educational inequality in East London. Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers. Vol.36,4.  pp.479-500

Africa and economic recovery

By Paulette Cully

The recent media coverage of the disruption to air travel due to volcanic activity in Iceland concentrated mainly on the impact it had upon holiday travel. However, stranded holiday  makers were not the only victims of the flight ban across Europe, not least the flower and vegetable growers of Kenya. Recent news articles on this subject have highlighted that Kenya provides nearly a quarter of all the fruit and vegetables that are air-freighted into Britain and it is estimated that in total, 1,000 tons of roses, carnations, mange tout, asparagus green beans and other fresh produce is exported each day to European supermarkets. Additionally,there are more than 150,000 people who work in Kenya’s horticulture industry, which is one of the country’s largest earners of foreign exchange, providing a fifth of the economy which in 2009 was worth $924 million.

The horticultural industry in Kenya is just one example of recent economic growth within the countries of the African continent and Pádraig Carmody discusses this in his Geography Compass article “Exploring Africa’s Economic Recovery”.  Pádraig investigates the depth, structure and significance of Africa’s current economic recovery. He explains that for most of the past 30 years Africa has been blighted with economic decline, AIDS, degradation of the environment and conflict, but more recently the number of conflicts has reduced, the economic growth rate has improved and for the first time in decades poverty may be reducing.  He also pays attention to the rising role of the Chinese trade and investment in the country.

To fully understand how and why these changes are taking place it is highly recommended to read Pádraig’s fascinating article and the next time that you buy flowers from the florist or choose green beans cultivated in Kenya from the supermarket shelf you will appreciate how and why they got there.

Read Pádraig Carmody’s article, 2008, Exploring Africa’s economic recovery, Geography Compass, Volume 2, Issue 1, pages 79-107

Read the news article about the effect of flight disruption on  horticulture in Kenya

The politics and power of buildings

By Jenny Lunn

Buildings are a part of our everyday lives. We live and work in buildings. We go to buildings for different activities – schools, hospitals, railways stations, supermarkets. Buildings host the machinery of our country – government ministries, banks, law courts. Buildings symbolise aspects of our culture – royal palaces, churches, cinemas, football stadia.

The geographical study of architecture has tended to be a small sub-field of cultural geography. Peter Kraftl’s article in Geography Compass (May 2010) gives an overview of scholarship on this topic, looking at the three main methodologies that have been used by geographers to study architecture and two prominent themes: interest in mobility and movement and the politics of architectural design and practice.

It is the latter that is particularly relevant in the light of the recent BBC documentary Building Africa: Architecture of a Continent (BBC Four, 27 April 2010, 11pm). Architect David Adjaye travelled through Africa looking at the continent’s architectural history and showed how buildings express the interplay between politics, economics and culture.

Whether Dutch colonial buildings in Church Square, Cape Town, such as the former Slave Lodge, or the Art Deco Cinema Impero in Asmara, Eritrea (see picture), which was part of Mussolini’s dream of a modernist city in Africa. Whether the concrete Central Business District in Nairobi – including the 30-storey Kenyatta International Conference Centre – built in 1960s and 1970s which expressed the hope and optimism of newly-independent nation, or recent developments such as the spectacular National Theatre in Accra, Ghana, built in collaboration with the Chinese government. The politics, power and symbolism in Africa’s built environment is a fascinating and worthy topic for geographical enquiry.

Read Peter Kraftl’s article in Geography Compass

Read about David Adjaye’s BBC documentary on African architecture