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  • Bee project may help save African villagers, wildlife

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    Imagine small bees saving the lives of huge elephants in Africa!

    That’s the hope and mission of Andre Gascoigne, son of Richard Edwords of Kamps Propane in Alpine. Gascoigne spent about a month early this summer designing and developing bee boxes in Zambia to keep elephants from being shot while trying to forage on farms.

    The project, which will also help villagers there, is a conservation program of the Nsefu Wildlife Conservation Foundation. Its  U.S. headquarters are in El Cajon.

    “I knew what I wanted to do,” Gascoigne said after returning in mid-July. “It was a pleasant surprise that we were able to accomplish as much as we did.”

    Edwords said his son built the bee box prototype while living in an abandoned ranger building in the poorest place on the African continent. The task was accomplished with homemade tools.

    Gascoigne learned how to make bombs with whatever was available as an explosives expert while he was in the Marines, so he was ready for the African challenge, Edwords said.

    The project was based on the fact that elephants are afraid of bees and 20 years of bee research by Dr. Lucy King in Kenya, said Gascoigne.

    He said Dr. King’s work at three different sites produced a reduced rate of conflict between starving elephants and villagers of up to 80 percent.

    That was crucial, because poachers and hungry villagers trying to protect their crops from elephants losing habitat has led to about 50 elephants killed daily in Zambia, according to those working with the project.

    “There can be injuries or deaths on both sides,” Gascoigne said. “This project reduces the possibility of injuries in the villages and the number of retaliatory parties.”

    He said he was able to get village support to help build boxes to hold bees.

    The boxes will be strung up along fences. Elephants approaching gardens will set off fence trip wires, causing the bees to scare away the elephants, Gascoigne explained.

    That’s a big step forward for the Nsefu foundation’s goal to protect and preserve Zambia’s wildlife. The foundation also is educating the Nsefu community about the critical importance of the environment and ecology.

    “We’re 100 percent donor-based,” said Coe Lewis, a San Diego radio personality who helped found the organization, “We’re all volunteers on the U.S. side.”

    Lewis said they knew they had to tackle the elephant poaching issue and win over villagers.

    “We’re giving them (residents) a chance to learn a skill (beekeeping), earn a living and bring about economic stability in the region,” Lewis said. “You are helping both villagers and the elephants.”

    The beekeeping project, she said, will be a source of consistent income for local people trained to be beekeepers and there is already a buyer for all the honey produced.

    Edwords, who is a beekeeper as well as an Ambassador for the Alpine Mountain Empire, taught his son about beekeeping when Gascoigne was a child.

    Gascoigne, a Humboldt State University student, said he now plans to become a conservationist rather than a ranger warden.

    “I hope to go back in a year or two to continue the project,” he said. “We’re going to add reforestation efforts and try to improve the quality of life for the bees.”

    (Photos courtesy of Nsefu Wildlife Conservation Foundation Project)