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Category — Education

Earth Expeditions: Participating in Community-Based Conservation in Kenya – Part I

For more than 10 years, the Zoo has partnered with Miami University’s Project Dragonfly to lead graduate courses that take educators into the field to experience community-based conservation, participatory education and inquiry firsthand. This year, I had the fortunate opportunity to co-facilitate Earth Expeditions Kenya: People and Wildlife in Integrated Landscapes with Dave Jenike, the Zoo’s COO. We took 17 educators with us, including formal classroom teachers as well as informal educators from zoos and similar institutions. Please join me for a series of blog posts about our experience.

Earth Expeditions students with Amboseli game scouts in Kenya

Earth Expeditions students with Amboseli game scouts in Kenya

Day 1:

We met up with the class at the Wildebeest Eco-camp in Nairobi on July 27, and spent the first day getting to know each other and learning about the role of the African Conservation Centre (ACC) in supporting community conservation efforts in Kenya from its Director, Lucy Wauringi. The students also led their first group discussion on inquiry and participatory education.

Lucy Wairungi, ACC Director, addresses the class (Photo: Shasta Bray)

Lucy Wairungi, ACC Director, addresses the class (Photo: Shasta Bray)

Day 2:

The next morning we hit the road in a huge overland vehicle and spent the better part of the day driving down to the Amboseli Game Scout Camp, located just outside of Amboseli National Park. We pitched our tents in the shadow of Mt. Kilimanjaro, had our second group discussion on African savannah ecology and bedded down for the night.

Standing by my tent in front of Mt. Kilimanjaro

Standing by my tent in front of Mt. Kilimanjaro

Day 3:

Up with the sun, we headed to Amboseli National Park for a full day of game driving. Before we even reached the park, we spotted plenty of wildlife from the giant giraffe to the tiny dik-dik antelope. Just inside the gate, we came across a bull elephant ambling alongside the road.

Bull elephant in Amboseli National Park (Photo: Shasta Bray)

Bull elephant in Amboseli National Park (Photo: Shasta Bray)

Bull elephant through the window (Photo: Shasta Bray)

Bull elephant through the window (Photo: Shasta Bray)

We would see many, many more elephants throughout the day from singles to large herds with multiple babies. Later that afternoon, Norah with the Amboseli Elephant Research Project, joined our game drive and shared her research on elephant behavior and social structure with us. Currently, there are about 1,500 elephants that use the park and she knows each one by name!

Young elephant nursing (Photo: Shasta Bray)

Young elephant nursing (Photo: Shasta Bray)

There must have been more than 40 elephants in this herd! (Photo: Shasta Bray)

There must have been more than 40 elephants in this herd! (Photo: Shasta Bray)

Norah with the Amboseli Elephant Research Project explains how they identify individual elephants by their ears (Photo: Shasta Bray)

Norah with the Amboseli Elephant Research Project explains how they identify individual elephants by their ears (Photo: Shasta Bray)

At lunch, we drove up to Observation Hill overlooking the swamp and heard from Dr. David Western, former Director of Kenya Wildlife Service and founder of the African Conservation Centre (ACC). Dr. Western has studied the relationship between people and wildlife in Kenya for more than 40 years. With more than 75% of Kenya’s wildlife living outside of protected areas, he promotes human-wildlife co-existence and community-based conservation as the way to protect the African savannah and its wildlife.

Observation Hill and the surrounding swamp in Amboseli National Park (Photo: Shasta Bray)

Observation Hill and the surrounding swamp in Amboseli National Park (Photo: Shasta Bray)

Dr. David Western talks with our group atop Observation Hill (Photo: Shasta Bray)

Dr. David Western talks with our group atop Observation Hill (Photo: Shasta Bray)

Day 4:

This morning, we joined the Amboseli game scouts on their daily patrol. Each day, they cover a lot of ground on foot looking for signs of poachers like unusual footprints and snares. Along the way, they showed us how to identify animal tracks and dung, pointed out dung beetle balls and smiled at us patiently when our clothes got caught on the thorny “wait-a-bit” bushes.

Abrehem shows us a dung beetle ball (Photo: Shasta Bray)

Abrehem shows us a dung beetle ball (Photo: Shasta Bray)

Then it was time for a short flight on a 12-seater airplane to our next destination. As we flew northwest towards Magadi, the view from the window was amazing. You can clearly see how the Maasai and their livestock literally share the same space with wildlife as their bomas, or homesteads, are sprinkled throughout the landscape. If you look carefully, you can even pick out tiny dots of mostly brown and white as cattle, sheep, goats and wildlife walk along their trails.

Students get ready to board the plane (Photo: Shasta Bray)

Students get ready to board the plane (Photo: Shasta Bray)

Maasai boma as seen from the plane (Photo: Shasta Bray)

Maasai boma as seen from the plane (Photo: Shasta Bray)

Livestock crossing the landscape as seen from plane  (Photo: Shasta Bray)

Livestock crossing the landscape as seen from plane (Photo: Shasta Bray)

Just before landing, we flew over Lake Magadi, a soda lake popular with flamingos. (Photo: Shasta Bray)

Just before landing, we flew over Lake Magadi, a soda lake popular with flamingos. (Photo: Shasta Bray)

When we landed, three land cruisers were waiting to take us on the last leg of our journey across very bumpy roads to the Olkirimatian conservancy, a group ranch communally owned by Maasai pastoralists and home to the Lale’enok Resource Centre.

Welcome to Lale'enok Resource Centre

Welcome to Lale’enok Resource Centre

A product of SORALO (South Rift Association of Land Owners) and ACC, Lale’enok serves as a hub for the local Maasai community and research partners from which various community-based research and conservation programs run. The Zoo has supported Lale’enok and its programs for many years, and has brought Earth Expeditions students to participate in them since 2008. Here is where we spent the rest of our time in Kenya engaging with our conservation partners.

To be continued in a future blog post. Check back soon!

July 29, 2015   2 Comments

Come Celebrate International Tiger Day on July 29!

This coming Wednesday, July 29, is International Tiger Day, and the Cat Canyon keepers and volunteers are gearing up for our 2nd annual celebration. We will also be celebrating the birthday of our Malayan tigers, Taj and Who-Dey. They will turn eight years old on July 30.

Tiger! (Photo: Mark Dumont)

Tiger! (Photo: Mark Dumont)

Like last year, keepers and volunteers will be on hand at the Malayan tiger exhibit to talk with guests about tigers and how we can help save this critically endangered species of which scientists estimate there are less than 350 individuals remaining in the wild. (The total estimate of all tiger subspecies combined is less than 3,200 remaining in the wild.)

Celebrating International Tiger Day in 2014 (Photo: Shasta Bray)

Celebrating International Tiger Day in 2014 (Photo: Shasta Bray)

Why are Malayan tigers in such big trouble? The most immediate threat today is from poaching and the illegal wildlife trade in tiger body parts used in traditional Asian medicine. The loss of forests on which tigers rely, which are rapidly being converted to palm oil plantations, is another major threat. Add to that the competition with hunters for sambar deer and other natural prey, which can lead tigers to attack livestock and increase conflict with people.

Tiger (Photo: Moni Sertel)

Tiger (Photo: Moni Sertel)

Since 2006, Panthera, a leading conservation organization focused on wild cats, has led the charge to stabilize and restore wild cat populations across the globe, including tigers. Panthera’s approach is to put as many boots on the ground as possible to protect tigers as well as promote co-existence between tigers and people.

The Zoo has pledged support to Panthera’s Tigers Forever program, which trains local rangers to patrol forests, gather intelligence and arrest poachers. In 2014, Tigers Forever added three new sites for a total of 15 sites under protection. This represents 36% of the world’s critical tiger sites. Panthera’s goal is to expand Tigers Forever to 50% of these sites by 2016.

New camera technology is also being deployed to prevent poaching. Panthera’s Technology team has developed the V5W PoacherCam, a hidden camera that uses an imaging algorithm to distinguish people from wildlife. When a person is detected, the PoacherCam instantly transmits the image to law enforcement who can immediately respond to the threat. PoacherCams will be distributed to Tigers Forever sites beginning in 2016.

Taj and Who-Dey relaxing in their pool (Photo: Kathy Newton)

Taj and Who-Dey relaxing in their pool (Photo: Kathy Newton)

Meanwhile, here at the Zoo, our Malayan tiger brothers, Taj and Who-Dey, continue to impress guests and help us spread awareness of the need for tiger conservation. We invite you to come celebrate International Tiger Day with us on July 29. In addition to talking with our keepers and volunteers and seeing Taj and Who-Dey, you can compare your hands to tiger paw prints, see example of tiger enrichment items (e.g. toys), and participate in the tigers’ birthday fun. Roar!

Roar! (Photo: Crissi Lanier)

Roar! (Photo: Crissi Lanier)

July 27, 2015   No Comments

Happy National Zoo Keepers Week! Meet Bird Keeper, Rickey Kinley

Co-written by: Jenny Gainer, Cody Sowers, Aimee Owen, & Wendy Rice (All keepers at the Zoo)

Our third honoree for National Zoo Keeper Week is Rickey Kinley! Rickey works as a keeper in the Aviculture (bird) department. Of all the nominations we received this year for National Zoo Keeper Week, only one keeper, Rickey, was unanimously selected by the committee as well. Rickey serves as an excellent role model for so many keepers in so many different ways, it’s no wonder he was an easy selection!

Rickey Kinley with one of his many feathered friends

Rickey Kinley with one of his many feathered friends

As a former student with the Zoo’s high school, the Zoo Academy, Rickey naturally connects with the current Zoo Academy students and he absolutely sets the bar in terms of mentorship. Rickey always takes the time to get to know each student and he uses what he learns about them to relate to and inspire that student. Ricky goes out of his way to include the students and make them feel like they have an important role in the bird department, and he consistently challenges them to try new things, even if they are unsure of themselves.

Rickey Kinley back when he was a Zoo Academy student

Rickey Kinley back when he was a Zoo Academy student

Head Keeper Jenny Gainer says of Rickey, “He was a mentor of mine as a student, so I’ve experienced it first-hand. And I’ve witnessed even 15 years later he still goes the extra mile to work with these kids and support the program.”

Outside of his stellar involvement with Zoo Academy students, Rickey clearly connects with every keeper he works with as well, and the fun and playful relationship he shares with most colleagues was evident in their praise and recognition for him. According to his coworkers, Rickey likes to laugh at penguins, and he likes to laugh in general. He has an international fan club that spans many generations and in the past, he may or may not have been known to rock a sweet flat-top hairstyle (a la “Kid N’Play”). Additionally, some reports suggest that the “Morgan Freeman of the Birdhouse” has been known to eat multiple cans of spinach a day (in spite of not having a Popeye-style anchor tattoo), and owns one of the most musically diverse iPods currently in existence (although this fact has not yet been confirmed by Apple Inc. or Guinness World Records).

Rickey Kinley walking with penguins during the Penguin Parade

Rickey Kinley walking with penguins during the Penguin Parade

But in all seriousness, this experienced keeper, who trained under Andrew Erkenbrecker himself, possesses vast avian knowledge and has published many different papers on training (including one of the first papers ever published on penguin training!). Rickey is well versed in critical and logical thinking and he performs well when pushed outside of the box. His contributions to the bird department have been innumerable over the years, and he is absolutely a shining example of zoo keeping. Thanks for all that you do Rickey!

July 22, 2015   2 Comments