Sunday, July 2, 2017

Four Hours in an Overlander

Once again, I woke up early and again I stayed in bed to try and better adjust to the time change and not wake the other 7 people in the tent up. When I finally got up, I took a much needed shower and it was incredible. I was so happy to be clean. Then I grabbed my journal and headed back to the patio to watch the sunrise and journal about my experiences thus far. However, instead I ended up chatting with Ian, another classmate, we discussed ideas around community based conservation and the role zoos can play in it. Working for the San Diego Zoo and knowing that we have projects in 80 countries currently, it makes me want to learn more about those project and I hope to eventually work in the department responsible for that work.

After another great meal, we all checked out and hopped in the overlander to make the 4 hour trek from Nairobi to Amboseli National Park. Yesterday they had mentioned that this would be our mode of transportation for the next couple days, but I had no idea what it was. This vehicle was pretty cool. It was a large bus, with the seats nearly 10 feet off the ground. So when we passed giraffes on the rode we were almost eye-level with them. As we drove, we saw a lot of livestock, mostly cows and my new favorite shoats (this is what the Kenyans call a herd of goats and sheep). We also saw a camel, giraffes, gazelles and baboons. It was crazy seeing the large animals right near towns and villages.

Tent buddies- Thanks Shasta for the picture.
Elephant destroyed bathroom- Thanks again Shasta
As we neared the camp, Shasta, our other instructor, mentioned that we would buddy up and we would each pitch our tents that we would stay in for the next two nights. She then mentioned she that she was unsure whether there would be restrooms near the camp as a herd of elephants had apparently assisted in a remodel and may have put the restrooms out of order. This put two thoughts in mind. First, "OMG I am going to be sleeping in a tent just yards away from where elephants had demolished a cinder block building". Secondly, "WOW, this is something the locals have to deal with their entire lives, this really puts this idea of coexistence into prospective." Where I live, the biggest worry people have as far as animal conflicts is coyotes stealing peoples pets, we combat this by bringing my dogs in at night and then they are safe. How do people protect themselves, their families their livestock and pets from these large animals in their backyards? This will be something I seek the answer to, if there is one, while I am here.

Savanna Ecology Twister

After lunch my group lead our discussion on savanna ecology and as we were all talking we were met by a giraffe in the background grazing away and the clouds cleared to give us an incredible view of Kilimanjaro, it was beautiful. I was in such awe it was hard to focus on our discussion. As soon as the discussion wrapped up we grabbed cameras to capture the  beauty around us. As I looked up a Kilimanjaro, I wondered what the habitats were like on the mountain and what animals may live there. I could see snow on the top and it was so perplexing to me to think of snow in Africa and I also began to wonder if the drought that we had been told about had any effect on the amount of snow present.

Leading discussions- Thanks Shasta, I have
no pictures of myself from the first couple days.

As the sun began to set we met Jackson from the ACC, Benson from the Amboseli Ecosystem Trust and Jackson a local game scout. These men talked to us about their roles in the conservation of the area. They explained how the Amboseli Ecosystem Trust works from a whole ecosystem standpoint which includes the local people because they have been part of this ecosystem from generations. However, wildlife can be dangerous and so they have a group of 350 game scouts who work to protect the wildlife, but also the people from the wildlife. They also explained that the national park is a dry season refuge and therefore it is critical habitat for animals, but 80% of the wildlife is found on the outside of the national park. So the different groups these men represent need to inspire the locals to want to continue to co- exist with the wildlife.

I was really inspired by the way these men and their conservation organizations wanted the communities to continue thrive in the same habitats as the wildlife and that they did not want to the local people excluded from the conservation efforts. With my experience, I feel so many conservation projects say they are community based, yet they exclude the community from the decisions of only include them in small ways. Another issue I have seen with many "community based conservation projects" is they often start by outsiders, but with this project it really seams to be started and run by locals. As the wee progresses I look forward to seeing more of the community driven projects in Kenya.

Saturday, July 1, 2017

Thinking Back on the First Days in Kenya

My tent for the first 2 nights

Today was my first official day day with the class, after a great day yesterday seeing the Nairobi sights I can't wait to see what will be in store for the next 10 days. Despite last night being my first nights sleep in over 24 hours, I wake up early, around 3:45. I forced myself to stay in bed until 6 am and then I head out to the patio to watch the sunrise and listen to the birds. I ate breakfast with Cole, one of my classmate that I will be traveling with after the course. We met a few other classmates as well.

At 10AM, the class began by meeting Sepiatech, an elder at the African Conservation Center, ACC. For the next 10 days we will be working closely with projects associated  with the ACC so it was nice to hear about it first hand and really understand their role in the conservation efforts around Kenya. The mission of the ACC in to integrate knowledge, environment and livelihood to ensure the local people are thriving in areas where animals need conserving. The ACC creates synergy between science and the traditional ecological knowledge, TEK. This idea of truly involving the people really excited me for the course and to see how it is being implemented successfully. One of the most powerful changes using this new approach was the precipitation of the wildlife by the locals. Sepiatech, explained that previous to the ACC the locals felt that the animals belonged to the government and so they no longer felt a connected or obligated to protect them if and when there were human wildlife conflicts. However, with the new constitution and the work done by the ACC the wildlife now belongs to the local people. With this change people feel ownership and empowered to want to protect the wildlife from conflict. I thought this was such a novel concept  and a great way to ensure community buy- in. As the talk wrapped up, Dave, one of the instructor of the course, explained that the major theme of the next 10 days would be co- existence. I am excited to see how this unique and positive way of looking at conservation works.

After the talk, the class had a great lunch of sandwiches and French fries, the food thus far has been so good, I am pleasantly surprised.

As a class, we really jumped into the work, as the first class discussion was right after lunch. The first group to go was the participatory education group and they lead us through a discussion of question development. We were able to ask the same question using different words to get a stronger participatory answer. It was  really neat exercise and a really good way to see how the words we use can shape the answers we get.

Black Faced vervit mother and baby
After the discussion, we were released for the day. So a few of us grabbed our cameras and headed around the property to take pictures of the wildlife we saw. My favorites was the troop of black faced vervit monkeys that were climbing on the roof. There was even a mother carrying her baby around with her and upon further examination, I noticed the was missing half of her forearm. This injury didn't seem to slow her down and it made me realize the resilience of the animals.

Super cool  moth that looks like a hummingbird.