Category — Giraffe
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 fourth post in a series about our experience. Read the previous post in this blog series here.
In addition to working alongside the researchers and staff at the Lale’enok Resource Centre, we also took part in some other amazing activities.
Open Inquiries and Group Discussions
Core to the mission of Earth Expeditions is inquiry. Following the QUEST model of inquiry promoted by Project Dragonfly, the students split up into small groups to conduct their own scientific investigations. Some of the creative comparative questions they asked included looking at whether there was greater terrestrial invertebrate species richness close to or farther from the river and whether DEET or dirt worked better as a bug repellent. The students also led a group discussion on community-based conservation.
Each day, about an hour or so before sunset, we would split up into the three cruisers and head out to look for wildlife on a game drive through the Olkirimatian and Shompole conservancies. While driving through Amboseli National Park earlier in the week was amazing, seeing an abundance of diverse wildlife—from zebras to bat-eared foxes to giraffes— living here on Maasai land was even more compelling.
At one point, our guide, Patrick, stopped to cut small branches off of a Salvadora bush. Using a knife, he pared down one end of each twig and passed them out. We chewed the ends until the fibers separated, creating a brush and then brushed our teeth with it the way the Maasai do.
The most exciting moment had to be when my cruiser came upon a young lion laying in the middle of the dirt road just after sunset, and this happened not long after we had to stop to change a flat tire in the bush!
Maasai Boma Visit
One late afternoon, instead of heading out on a typical game drive, we were invited to visit with a Maasai family at their boma. When we arrived, the woman and her two young girls greeted us and showed us around.
As it neared sunset, we joined the herder as he brought his cattle home. In fact, he handed over the herding stick and a few of the students took over. Apparently, herding cattle is much harder than it looks! It was quite comical to watch the students try to keep the cows all moving in the right direction at the right pace.
Once the cattle were finally in their corral, the woman then showed us how she milks the cows. I can’t imagine what kind of trouble we’d have if she’d asked us to give that a try!
To be continued in a future blog post. Check back soon!
August 20, 2015 2 Comments
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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?
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
As an accredited member of the Association of Zoos & Aquarium (AZA), the Cincinnati Zoo & Botanical Garden works closely with the AZA’s Population Management Center. The Center works with accredited zoos throughout North America, drafting recommended Species Survival Plans (SSP) for roughly 340 species. The Maasai giraffe that you see at the Cincinnati Zoo are carefully monitored and considered in these plans, both to safely preserve the species’ genetic diversity as well as to make sure there are enough new births to keep the captive population’s size stable and healthy.
Today, fewer than 150 Maasai giraffe exist in the North American captive population, including the five females and one male that live here at the Cincinnati Zoo. In order to support genetic diversity in the North American Maasai giraffe population, considering its size, AZA-accredited Zoos breed animals only when given a Species Survival Plan (SSP) recommendation.
That being said, for all three of the Cincinnati Zoo’s recent giraffe births, the Zoo has received recommendations from the SSP. Through evaluating their genetic diversity our male, “Kimba”, and seven-year-old female, “Tessa”, the SSP was able to determine that these two paired together create offspring that are genetically diverse, and provide genetics for future offspring that are not already well represented in the captive population.
In the wild, once a female giraffe reaches maturity, her natural behavior is to breed right away after a calf is born. When we can, zoos like to allow animals to imitate those natural wild behaviors. At the appropriate age, a wild female giraffe is typically breeding, pregnant, or nursing a calf at all times. Young giraffe are vulnerable to predators, which means the wild populations are not always stable, coupled with the long gestation period of about sixteen months, means there is always a need to breed. While there are not predators in captivity, zoos are responsible for carefully managing captive populations to keep both individual animals healthy and happy, as well as the group at large.
The Cincinnati Zoo’s giraffe keepers, animal care staff, and vets have worked closely with the AZA SSP Program Managers over the last five years and look forward to continuing Maasai giraffe breeding success in the future. With the arrival of two new females, “Cece” and “Jambo,” last Spring, the Cincinnati Zoo is hopeful that the breeding program in Cincinnati will continue to grow and prosper.
May 8, 2014 8 Comments