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

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. This is the second post in a series about our experience. Read the first post in this blog series here.

The South Rift landscape seemed to stretch on forever (Photo: Shasta Bray)

The South Rift landscape seemed to stretch on forever (Photo: Shasta Bray)

Day 4 (continued):

We arrived at the Lale’enok Resource Centre in the early afternoon. As soon as we stepped out of the vehicles, we were greeted by a welcoming committee. The Olkirimatian Women’s Group welcomed us with a beautiful song once we made our way into the shelter that would serve as our home base for meals and meetings throughout the week. The Operations Manager, Joel Ngongo, then introduced us to the Centre’s staff, researchers and community members that were there.

Maasai women from the Olkirimatian Women's Group welcome us with song (Photo: Shasta Bray)

Maasai women from the Olkirimatian Women’s Group welcome us with song (Photo: Shasta Bray)

We received a quick orientation to camp, including very important safety information such as always be alert; there was a venomous snake spotted in camp earlier that day. Near the tents, they had set up temporary sand pit toilets and showers that basically consist of a bucket of water with a spout that you open and close. Water is a very precious resource here in the South Rift Valley, especially during the dry season, so we kept showers to a minimum and were sure to turn the water off when soaping up.

Bucket showers and the water tap (Photo: Shasta Bray)

Bucket showers and the water tap (Photo: Shasta Bray)

We returned to the shelter for a conversation with John Kamanga, Director of SORALO (South Rift Association of Land Owners) and Chairman of Olkirimatian Group Ranch. He shared with us the history and background of the Maasai culture and how the Lale’enok Resource Centre came to be. The Maasai have coexisted with wildlife as nomadic pastoralists that herd livestock for thousands of years. However, as times change and their culture evolves, the traditional Maasai way of maintaining that coexistence must also adapt. For example, there is growing pressure to subdivide the land and build fences, which would prevent wildlife as well as people and their livestock from migrating to find good grazing areas. Also, many of the young Maasai men who traditionally protect livestock from lions now go off to school, leaving their herds more vulnerable to attack. The community-based research and programs conducted out of Lale’enok aim to solve those issues and support both wildlife conservation and thriving livelihoods.

Maasai herder brings his cattle home at sunset (Photo: Shasta Bray)

Maasai herder brings his cattle home at sunset (Photo: Shasta Bray)

To that end, one thing the community has done is to designate three zones of land use on the group ranch. The first is a settlement and grazing zone occupied by people and livestock for much of the year, particularly during the wet season. The second is a buffer zone into which people and livestock migrate during the dry season. Lastly, there is the conservation zone that serves as a wildlife refuge and is only used for livestock grazing during drought conditions. Following this structure ensures sustainable land use and preservation of the savannah ecosystem.

We happened to arrive on the last day before the community would be allowed to migrate across the river into the conservation area in response to the current drought. It was a great opportunity for us to visit the conservation area and see it unoccupied; later in the week, we would see it occupied with people and livestock. It was also our first chance to game drive, get the lay of the land and look for wildlife. We split into three groups, each with a guide and headed out in the cruisers.

Getting ready to head out on our first game drive in the South Rift

Getting ready to head out on our first game drive in the South Rift

First, we visited an unoccupied boma, or homestead. Peter, an elder who is on the Conservation Committee, explained the set up of the boma and pointed out which corral was for cattle and which was for shoats (sheep and goats). We also peeked inside one of the manyattas, or huts, in which the people cook and sleep. The entire boma is surrounded by a fence of thorny branches.

Peter describes life in a Maasai boma (Photo: Shasta Bray)

Peter describes life in a Maasai boma (Photo: Shasta Bray)

Thorny acacia branches surround the homestead (Photo: Shasta Bray)

Thorny acacia branches surround the homestead (Photo: Shasta Bray)

Then we continued our game drive until after dark, spotting a diversity of wildlife from zebras and wildebeest to baboons and giraffes. It’s so amazing to think that the Maasai, their livestock and all this wildlife – including lions and other carnivores, even though we didn’t see them on this first game drive – share the same space. Sure, here in Cincinnati we share our backyards and cities with birds, squirrels and deer, but even so, we still think of it as “our” space. We’ve eliminated our large predators like wolves and cougars and are generally nervous when potentially dangerous animals like bears are spotted in the area. What could we learn from the Maasai about living with wildlife rather than separated from it?

Zebra and cattle sharing the same space (Photo: Shasta Bray)

Zebra and cattle sharing the same space (Photo: Shasta Bray)

Giraffes spotted on our game drive in the South Rift (Photo: Shasta Bray)

Giraffes spotted on our game drive in the South Rift (Photo: Shasta Bray)

It was a very full first day in Olkirimatian. Exhaustion and the much hotter, drier climate caught up with me after dinner so that I retired to my tent and fell asleep as soon as my head hit the pillow. We had five more days of adventure and exploration ahead of us.

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

 

 

 

 

August 5, 2015   1 Comment

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