03 November 2009

Education is at the core of rural development and conservation programs in the southern Rift Valley. However, for many young Maasai boys, and particularly girls, primary school is a privilege, high school an opportunity open to just a few, and college a rarity.  The demands of a nomadic, pastoralist lifestyle just seem to impose too heavy a financial and logistic burden on many families.   However, the enthusiasm is there, and attendance at all of Olkiramatian and Shompole schools are continually increasing.  You can now see the benefits of education all around Olkiramatian and Shompole.  A local Resource Assessor program now employs 8 young Maasai men, who have all completed high school, to conduct conservation and livelihoods research.  The Women's Group is begining to learn basic business skills to develop and manage their Research Centre.  And local schools have had the opportunity to share and discuss conservation and education with Kenyan and international researchers.

Unfortunately, Kenya is in the middle of a severe drought and the impacts have been devastating, with many schools forced to close due to insufficient funds for teacher salaries, school meals, textbooks, and school supplies.  The Maasai community, researchers, and Kenyan and international groups are now trying to step in and alleviate the situation.  And we can help this cause in Bozeman. 

On Wednesday, November 18, join us at the Emerson Ballroom at 7 pm for a fundraiser to support local schools in Olkiramatian and Shompole.  Throughout the evening, we will have a silent auction with all proceeds going directly to schools in Olkiramatian and Shompole.  Researchers have contributed a variety of wildlife, landscape, and cultural photographs, Maasai jewelry, and traditional goods for auction.  We will also have alcoholic and non-alcoholic beverages during a meet-and-greet session, with a slide show displaying pictures of the area, research projects, and local schools.  Dr. Scott Creel and Paul Schuette (MSU) will then introduce a short film (~10 min.) produced by the South Rift Association of Landowners (SORALO) and the African Conservation Centre (ACC), our Kenyan partners, discuss their role in conservation projects in the area, the importance of local education, and the impacts of the current drought.  Throughout the night, we will be accepting donations for local education programs through our U.S, partner, the African Conservation Fund.  This registered 501 c3 organization has been a trusted partner for all programs in the southern Rift Valley for several years.  Please join us for what we anticipate will be both an interesting and productive evening for people of all ages. 

08 October 2009

South Rift Drought Emergency

The worst drought in living memory is gripping Kenya's savannas and devastating lives on a scale not seen in more than half a century.

World news is finally focusing on the human and wildlife tragedy - images of dead and dying cattle and wildlife, and people struggling with feeding themselves and their families through this terrible drought.

There is yet another victim of the drought that is lesser known: Education.

While pastoralist Maasai families are struggling to survive, their wealth slashed, many of the hardest hit are not able to pay for fees that cover teacher allowances and food. Scores of schools across the South Rift are closing.

The elders of the South Rift Association have approached us for help. Many of them remember the horrible droughts of the 1960s, when they had to drop out of school due to the movement of their families away from the areas were the schools were located and for their own survival. Few of them ever returned to school. 

The elders asked us to focus on the Pre-school in the area, as these young children are the most vulnerable in times of drought and the schools are all parent-funded. Some 60 pre-schools and 3040 children are affected in the South Rift alone.

It is a critical time for the Maasai - the elders know that school is the most important tool for the future of their lives as pastoralists, to help inform management of their land, resources, and opportunities such as science and tourism. Without education, the future is lost.



Three months of food and teacher salaries to see them through the worst of the drought.

Teacher salaries, Magadi region (20 teachers for 3 months):  $4,000 USD   /   300,000Ksh.

Food*, for 40 of the most affected schools:  $23,000 USD   /  1,725,000Ksh
*it takes ksh 3,600 Ksh / $48 to feed 50 children (the average size of a school) for one week.


Hold a fundraiser with your schools - we'll send images and messages to the schools in Magadi. Car washes, bake sales, contests.

Solicit donations from your friends and family. If you ask ten friends for $10 each, you can raise $100. Ten of you can raise $1000!

Solicit donations from businesses - $50, $100, $500 or more

We can't accept food or goods donations from overseas - due to import duties and problems - cash is best.

All international funds can be sent through African Conservation Centre's international representative, African Conservation Fund, and are tax-deductible in the U.S. and we guarantee the aid will be delivered as promised, through the South Rift Association of Land Owners.

ONLINE: click the DONATE NOW button on the upper right main page of the website http://www.africanconservationfund.org or checks can be mailed to African Conservation Fund, 3400 E Speedway, Suite 118-146, Tucson AZ USA 85716

In the US:
Contact Roseann Hanson at 520-591-1410
In Kenya:
Contact John Kamanga, South Rift Association of Land Owners ( 722 709514, Soralo@acc.or.ke) Or Samantha Russell (722 583734, samantha.russell@acc.or.ke), South Rift Resource Centre

(Pictures Above) The Embirika Nursery School, in Olkiramatian Group Ranch, is one example of a pre-school which is unable to open due to the current drought. The school teacher is Mary, Albert Kuseyo’s wife. Albert runs the South Rift Resource Centre. The pictures show the school in October 2008, and now standing empty in September this year.

Posted on behave of Roseann Hanson

23 July 2009

Olkiramatian Women’s Group - Bead Sale

Earth Expeditions came to stay at the resource centre for about a week. Part of their program included a community day where Olkiramatian and Shompole leaders came and talked about Maasai culture and tradition and then everyone spilt up into small groups and discussed various political, personal, and economic issues differing in the two countries. A hot topic was how people here were coping with the current drought. The women’s group formed one small group and discussed cultural differences with the women from the United States. Everything from husbands to education was discussed. Two days later the women came back to showcase their traditional Maasai beadwork and generate supplemental income for their families. About 50 women showed up producing quite a selection of goods. When the resource center is completely built, one proposed building is a welcoming hut where the women can permanently display their beadwork and sell it all of the guests that come through the centre.

In the last week, the women have also attended a workshop where, along with eight other women’s groups in Kenya, they met to share ideas and projects that they have started.
ACC facilitated the meeting and four representatives from each group attended the workshop. The Olkiramatian Women’s group was especially interested in something that the Amboseli group was already doing, bee keeping. It is something that each sub-location can independently do and then they can use the resource centre as a refining centre for the honey.

Earth Expeditions visit the South Rift

The South Rift is the latest place to be added to the Earth Expeditions prestigious line-up of global destinations, hosting a team of 19 participants in early July this year.
Earth Expeditions is jointly offered by Project Dragonfly at Miami University, the Cincinnati Zoo & Botanical Garden, and partners worldwide, in order to build an alliance of individuals with first-hand knowledge of inquiry-driven, community-based learning for the benefit of ecological communities, student achievement, and global understanding.
Earth Expeditions envisions each person as an ambassador who creates as well as transmits knowledge, who promotes authentic dialogue at all levels of society, and who inspires others to do the same. By adopting participatory models of education, schools become centers of investigation, students engage more deeply in their studies, and communities achieve higher levels of self-determination.
The Kenya course themes include:
• Introduction to the ecology of East African savannah ecosystems
• Inquiry-driven learning
• Community-based conservation and participatory education
• Models of conservation: national parks and community-owned conservancies
• Field method techniques
Most of the 19 people were actually enrolled in the new Global Field Program offered by Earth Expeditions. The Global Field Program (GFP) brings Master’s degree candidates, scientists, educators, community leaders, and others together at conservation hotspots in Africa, Asia, and the Americas for firsthand experience with inquiry-driven education, environmental stewardship, and global understanding. GFP candidates join a growing network of leaders who work collaboratively to bring about change in local and global contexts. This program builds on the graduate courses and environmental partnerships of Earth Expeditions and the NSF funded Wild Research.

This year included a community interaction day, a visit to the local Olkiramatian Primary school (where there was a historic football match played), game drives which included learning some field techniques for observing animal behaviour in relation to carnivore presence and general methods for counting animals, walking with Joel and the baboon troop and going out with Paul at night to track and observe the collared lions in the area.

The trip was an enormous success, and the South Rift will continue to host Earth Expedition groups for many years to come.

‘Thanks you so much. The course was very meaningful to all of the participants. It is the type of experience that changes a person forever! I am more impressed than ever with your effort and the community, even with the stress caused by the drought you and the community were so very welcoming. Thank You’ (Dave Jannike, course leader).

People, plants and herbivores

Taking a more bottom-up approach to studying the ecosystem, I focus on the vegetation and habitats and what affect this has on the densities and distributions of wild and domestic herbivores. I am interested to see for example if the wildlife and the domestic stock use the same kind of habitats at the same time or if they avoid each other, and generally how they relate to each other. I am also looking at how then they in turn impact the vegetation.

Having areas within the ecosystem which are predominantly for cattle grazing and areas which are set aside for wildlife (i.e. the conservation areas) makes this even more interesting as these areas can act as control study areas. The situation gets really interesting however in times of extreme drought such as is being faced now, where both livestock and wildlife are both doing all that they can just to survive, and therefore are ending up in the same areas at the same time in search of water and forage.

Predators, Prey, and People

The carnivore program has experienced several major changes in the last couple months. First, we have had some recent good luck in radio-collaring lions and spotted hyenas. We now have 4 lions (2 males, 2 females) fit with radio collars. One male and female come from the Sampu pride, which is named after the Olkiramatian eco-tourism project in the area they reside. The second male and female come from the Lengong pride, a Maasai word for the bushy habitat along the Ewaso Nyiro river, where these lions spend a lot of time. There is one more known lion pride in the Shompole area, which we hope to study in more detail in the coming year. Additionally, we've observed another lion (our 20th confirmed individual) in the far reaches of our study area to the south. This male lion presents either a fourth pride or is a migrant passing through the area. We look forward to figuring this out soon.

We now also have 2 spotted hyenas radio-collared. One spotted hyena comes from a clan on the east side of the Ewaso Nyiro river, that resides strictly on Maasai group ranch lands. The second spotted hyena comes from a clan that spends some time inside the community conservation area and other times outside on the Maasai group ranch lands. It will be very interesting to see how their behaviors compare across these different land use strategies.

The carnivore team has also hired two new research assistants, Loserem Mpukere Meitamei and Philip Oltubulai Mwae from Olkiramatian and Shompole group ranches, respectively. These veteran Maasai researchers have joined forces with Michael Kapoli and Patrick Moikinyo to conduct the camera surveys across Olkiramatian and Shompole. Our research assistants conduct these camera surveys completely on their own, allowing research to continue while I am away in the U.S. for coursework and lab work at Montana State University. We welcome them to the team and look forward to working with them for a long time to come…

17 May 2009

Baboon Bits

Baboon species:

• They are grouped into only two species of which only one sub species of each is living;
• Theropithecus baboon. (Gelada is its only living species.)
• Papio baboon; also called the savannah. (Have five sub species but since they interbreed and give forth-fertile offspring, they are considered as one single species.)
• Yellow (papio cynocephalus cynocephalus)
• Olive (papio cynocephalus anubis)
• Guinea (papio cynocephalus papio)
• Chacma (papio cynocephalus ursinus)
• Hamadryas (papio cynocephalus hamadryas)
• Hamadryas are different from the rest in their appearance and behaviors, they are most northerly of the five species found in the arid scrublands and desert of Ethiopia, Sudan, Somalia, and the coast of southern Arabia. They are smaller, light gray color coat and pink faces and bottom. Males have manes of longer hair around their head and shoulder and much longer than females.
• Olive: Found in Ethiopia, northern Tanzania and across West Africa. Adult males have large furry mane, have overhanging tips to their noses and they are very robust compared to the rest.
• Yellow: fond in Tanzania, Zambia, northern Mozambique and Angola. They are characterized by yellow coat, slender with long legs, overturned nose; males have mane furry hair around their heads.
• Chacma: through southern Africa, mid Zambia, to Cape Province of South Africa. They are dark in color, furry fringe of black hair around their neck and shoulder, males have cape of hair around their shoulders.
• Guinea: restricted distribution in West Africa.
• Gelada species is restricted distributed to the Simen Mountains of Ethiopia. Males have magnificent longer, silkier mane, both male and female have patches of bare skin on their chest-bright red color made them called “bleeding hearts baboon.”

Baboon Facts:

• They are the most widespread of all the savannah monkeys.
• They are adaptable, found in extremely cold and hot areas alike.
• They have a highly varied diet. They get food from above and below the ground. They feed on fruits, leaves, seeds, berries, flowers, roots, shoots, gum, insects, and meat in a diverse and discerning manner. They sometimes eat only a particular part of any food.
• Their ability to manipulate things with their hands and fingers suggest the reason why they have successfully colonized the savannah. They are found virtually in all parts of sub Sahara Africa.
• Adult males weigh an average of 22kg to 30kg and females- 12kg to 15kg.
• Females establish close relationship with their relatives that often last an entire lifetime.
• They sharpen their canine teeth by grinding them against a specially adapted tooth in the lower jaw. The sound of a male grinding teeth is a good indicator that fighting is about to break out.
• Baboons have extremely sharp vision; it’s their primary sense.
• They get safety in numbers; they forage and sleep together.
• They are inquisitive and very smart; forever investigating new things they come across in the environment. Youngsters and adult males are more adventurous than females who are more conservative.
• Infants sometimes use their mother’s tail as backrest when jockey riding on their mother’s back.
• They have shown ability to live alongside human and benefit from the association unlike many other animals.
• They can store food in special cheek pouches that lie just under the skin on either sides of the jaw. They push food into the insides of their cheeks and then eat it later.
• Baboons are adept at spotting clues that tell them that a tasty corm, bulb I lurking underground. Often, this clue is nothing more than a small shoot poking up from the ground.
• Depending with its size, the troop will move between 1 to 5 kilometers per day, but the bigger to troop, the longer its day’s journey. In scarce food, they move up to 9 to 10 kilometers a day.

Olkiramatian Baboon Project

By Joel Njonjo

Background information:

The Maasai tribe inhabits Olkiramatian group ranch. The group ranch is divided into three sections; the northwest fringe has potential for agriculture and has been set aside for farming, the eastern part of the group ranch is the widest with vast space for livestock and the Northeast part is blessed with vast plains and forest parches that are wet and green year round. Olkiramatian provides a home for many different animal and bird species including the Big Five (except rhinos). Other rare species and endangered species, like lesser kudus, are abundant. More than two hundred beautiful bird species have been reported within the conservation area.
The Maasai people have a rich culture that embraces the conservation of their natural resources. This is why they have been able to coexist with wild animals in their day-to-day lives up to the present time. Although human encroachment and increasing development exert high pressure on wildlife populations across Kenya, wildlife is still thriving in Maasai areas. Their culture contains measures that protect the environment; for instance, excessive poaching is prohibited since it’s believed that poachers will become unsuccessful outcasts. Tree conservation is an important characteristic: people may prune trees for a variety of uses, but may not cut down the whole tree.
In Maasai society, every animal species is viewed differently – generally depending on their size and benefits. Before the tourism era, they valued wildlife for food, ritual, and cultural functions. Killing a lion used to be seen as a sign of braveness and manhood. On the other hand, some animals are viewed to be of low or no benefit. These animals are neither used for cultural purposes nor subsistence purposes. Some of them come into conflict with people through crop-raiding or livestock predation. Baboons and hyenas fall in this category. Hyenas predate on livestock, and baboons raid crops and eat young goats and sheep. Hence, both species are perceived to be pests in the society.
Baboons are among the world’s best survivors and are adept in changing diet and introducing new foods when resources are scarce. Their flexibility occasionally leads to conflict with people, especially where there is competition over wild fruits, water and livestock fodder during dry seasons, leading to a negative perception in the community. Resource competition intensifies as the drought continues and baboons introduce meat as their supplement source of food.

Project introduction:

Dr. Shirley Strum, Director of Uaso Ngiro Baboon Project, Debbie Nightingale of Uaso Ngiro Baboon Project and John Kamanga, the Olkiramatian Group Ranch Chairman and SORALO coordinator, introduced the idea of baboon habituation for research and eco-tourism to the Olkiramatian community in the year 2005. They proposed the idea as a way of adding value to the existing eco-tourism project in Sampu Tented Camp. They also wanted to create job opportunities for the locals and to support different development programs in Olkiramatian.
In addition, the community will benefit through the project by learning baboon ranging patterns and learning when and where they attack their livestock. This will help the community develop non-lethal approaches to reducing human-baboon conflict.

Project aim:

The project aims to habituate a baboon troop for use in a “Walking with Baboons” eco tourism project in Olkiramatian Group Ranch. This is a unique opportunity to walk within a troop of baboons while learning about the environment, vegetation types, and Maasai culture. Visitors learn how the Maasai, livestock and wild animals collectively and sustainably use natural resources.

Project packages-activities:

The project gives its clients a chance to walk with wild baboons with a Maasai guide, and watch them at a close range while they continue with their daily activities. The guide knows each individual baboon, and will answer questions about baboons, Maasai culture, livestock and vegetation.

SORALO@ACC.OR.KE OR 254-20-891360
+254 722 545 285
+254 737 545 285

13 April 2009

Predators, Prey, and People

Project Personnel: Paul Schuette, Phd Student, Montana State University (supervised by Dr. Scott Creel); Michael Kapoli, Research Assistant, Olkiramatian; & Patrick Moikinyo, Research Assistant, Shompole.

Project Overview:
This project examines predator - prey dynamics, human - carnivore conflict, and carnivore community ecology in the southern Rift Valley of Kenya. Research is interested in the relationships between the Maasai people, large predators, and their prey, and how these interactions change in relation to land use strategies, habitat availability, and environmental conditions.

We are collaborating with the Maasai people of Olkiramatian and Shompole Group Ranches, SORALO, the African Conservation Centre, the African Conservation Fund, and fellow researchers to collectively examine the processes regulating this biologically rich and complex ecosystem and identify conservation strategies that benefit people, wildlife, and landscapes.

Research Strategy & Community Involvement:

We have designed a research program to estimate distributions and densities of lions, spotted hyenas, and their prey, livestock, and many smaller carnivore species. Our project will identify behavioral strategies of lions and spotted hyenas that allow coexistence with people across this region of Maasai land, and determine where potential or actual conflict occurs. We are also collecting data on livestock predation and livestock husbandry practices to better understand the circumstances surrounding carnivore conflict. This information will allow our research team and the community to develop management strategies to mitigate conflict between the Maasai and large predators.

The Maasai community plays an integral role in the development and implementation of all research in the southern Rift Valley. Our carnivore research team employs 2 full-time, local research assistants who have an intimate understanding of human-wildlife interactions in Olkiramatian and Shompole. We also work closely with the Resource Assessor program, which consists of 7 Maasai men collecting natural resource data for their community, the community game scouts, and the Kenya Wildlife Service to collectively examine this rich ecosystem. We meet regularly with local leaders and members of the community to incorporate current conservation concerns in our work and maintain open communications between our research team and the community.

06 March 2009

Olkiramatian Women’s Group


SORALO and the African Conservation Centre (ACC) approached the community with ideas for developing community conservation and research projects in the region. The community embraced the shared concern for the environment and wanted to know how they could benefit from the research as well. After a research site was chosen the Olkiramatian Women’s Group was given legal ownership of the land. This way the camping fees collected from researchers and educational groups could be put back into the community through various programs that they are still developing.

The Olkiramatian Women’s Group was established in November 2007 and there are currently 170 members. A chairlady and thirteen committee members have been elected. The women reside in four sub locations of Olkiramatian and committee members are elected from each location. Membership dues are required with registration, which add to the new organization’s accruing revenue.

Community Projects:

The women have many areas of interest where they would like to use the profits from the Resource Centre. They would like to establish a place where they can do beadwork and sell beadwork to national and international research groups. The centre has already hosted groups from Earthwatch and Earth Expeditions. They would also like to set up bursaries for girls in the community and see the Resource Centre develop into a meeting ground and educational centre for the whole community. SORALO and ACC are actively helping them with the development of the land and they are now seeking support from outside the community with regards to training in business management.