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…