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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   1 Comment

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 Primate Keeper, Shelly Donohue

Co-writted by: Danielle Swopes, Susie Semler & Wendy Rice (All keepers at the Zoo)

Our fifth and final honoree for National Zoo Keeper Week is Shelly Donohue! Shelly recently moved from the Africa Interpretive Department to the Primate Department.

When you really look at the Zoo’s core values (progressive thinking, accountability, pride, passion, positivity, etc.), meeting those standards consistently, day-in and day-out, seems like an overwhelming task for some of us. For others, like Shelly, it’s just a walk in the park. 

Shelly shows off her positive attitude!

Shelly shows off her positive attitude!

Anyone who knows Shelly personally has borne witness to her strong set of personal values.  She treats everyone fairly and with kindness and she always chooses to do the right thing, even if it’s not in her best interest. The moral fiber Shelly possesses is both admirable and inspiring, and she consistently represents herself and our institution in a shining light.

As if that weren’t enough, Shelly has also found a unique balance of integrity and congeniality. Her cheery attitude and child-like humor brighten the work place, and spending time with her (even when completing undesirable tasks) is always enjoyable. She will spend hours (while cleaning of course) calling back and forth to “Harley”, the blue and gold macaw, using high-pitched squeals, squawks, whistles, and words. Her connection with the natural world is clearly evident to anyone who has seen her interact with her critters.

Shelly walks Walter the warthog

Shelly walks Walter the warthog

Shelly is also very much a “doer”.  She volunteers to do the everyday tasks that most people avoid like cleaning gutters, weed-whacking, leaf-blowing, stripping and deep cleaning animal enclosures. She never shies away from a challenging or unpleasant task, and she consistently works hard to provide a better life for the animals in her care.

Always striving to achieve more, Shelly really puts all of herself into meeting her goals. From researching future education paths to talking to field researchers and scientists to participating in Miami University’s graduate program, Shelly is always on a path of self-improvement and focused on becoming a better version of herself. With her hard-working and winning attitude, it seems the sky is the limit for this young keeper!

In a world where personal integrity seems to have a ripple effect on others, we are so proud to work alongside Shelly and call her “zoo keeper”.

Shelly and fellow keeper, Susie, with Walter the warthog

Shelly and fellow keeper, Susie, with Walter the warthog

July 24, 2015   No Comments