As many of you know, the Zoo TRIBE is one of the Zoo’s volunteen programs that offers area teens the chance to gain leadership skills while helping in our Spaulding Children’s Zoo. TRIBE teens also help us inspire our Zoo guests at key exhibits, including the new Africa exhibit. In June, to better equip the TRIBE teens to tell the story of lion conservation, Rachel Messerschmitt, Lily Maynard, and I accompanied 4 TRIBE teens to Kenya to give them first hand experiences with the native Maasai tribe, community-based conservation, and – of course – lions. We asked one of these TRIBE teens, Tyler Adkins, to write about his experiences on the Kenya expedition. I’m proud to post that story here. For more information about the Zoo’s support of lion conservation in Kenya’s South Rift Valley, visit Rebuilding the Pride, and the Zoo’s saving species website.
The TRIBE trip to Kenya this summer was the best experience of my life! The four lucky teens that were selected to take this once-in-a-lifetime journey were Lindsey Krusling, Faith Hall, Abby Nienaber, and me, Tyler Adkins. We were chaperoned by our supervisors Rachel Messerschmitt and Cory Christopher, as well as Lily Maynard. We spent 10 amazing days in the South Rift of Kenya where we had the opportunity to see wildlife up close and meet an incredible and inspiring group of people, the Maasai people.
While in the South Rift of Kenya, we saw many beautiful animals in their natural habitat surrounded by breathtaking scenery. We saw everything from dung beetles to baboons. Every animal was amazing in its own way, but for me the adorable and playful lion cubs were definitely my favorite thing to see. I thought that the beautiful views and close encounters with animals such as lions and giraffes would be my favorite part of this trip. And while I certainly did love seeing all of these animals in their natural habitat surrounded by the most amazing scenery a person could ever dream of, this was not by favorite part of our journey.
The best part of our entire expedition, by far, was getting to meet and hang out with the Maasai people. The Maasai are a group of pastoralists, or herders, who live in the South Rift of Kenya. To put things in perspective, the Maasai’s cattle is their income, their source of food, and an emotional attachment, like a pet. So, a Maasai person’s cow means everything to them. These pastoralists have chosen to live with their cattle alongside the lions! They have adapted in such a way that they have managed to avoid very little conflict with the lions. With the help of the Rebuilding the Pride project, headed by Guy Western and Lily Maynard, they have been able to track lion movement using GPS collars and radio transmitters to better avoid conflict. Through this community-based conservation program, the lion population has made a triumphant comeback and will continue to grow due to this sustainable program!
The Maasai people are not just incredible and inspiring because they are able to live with lions; they are also the most joyful people I have ever met. Here in America, we are able to enjoy the luxuries of a first-world country, however in the south rift of Kenya, they do not have these luxuries. I saw firsthand the small huts made from sticks and mud that they live in. A man told me how when he went to herd his cows everyday he would get a cup of milk in the morning before leaving and a cup of milk when he returned home at night, and that was all he would eat for the day. The Maasai people live in these conditions their whole lives, but that does not seem to affect their outlook on life. They were all so cheerful and welcoming. Whether we were beading bracelets with them or dancing around the fire, we all had huge smile on our faces. Everybody is so incredibly joyous and inspiring that it made me happy to just be around them. This journey was definitely a life-changing opportunity, and getting to spend it with the Maasai people is what truly made this trip the best experience of my life! ~ Tyler Adkins, 2013