21 December 2010

Carnivore Update

Carnivores, carnivores, carnivores. Most of our research is facilitated with radio-collared animals, but we take advantage of opportunistic sightings of uncollared animals whenever we can. Hyenas have really been helpful lately, lying along the roads in the early evening and letting us get very close to follow them as they hunt. The hyenas are quite predictable, lying along the routes the wildlife use to reach the river to get a drink at night, when all the people and livestock are safely inside their bomas. Uncollared lion sightings have also been surprisingly common. Even though none of the 3 new males who have immigrated to the study area wears a collar, we have had no trouble finding them at least once a week. Of course, being able to find receptive females makes it much easier to find interested males. The new males have been seen mating or courting at least three lioness we regularly follow. (written by David Christianson)

15 December 2010

Construction Update

This will likely be our last construction update, for a while anyhow. The masons and laborers all left and the builder gave everyone the green light to move into the new buildings. The new and improved Resource Center looks amazing and the spacious, cool buildings have made living and working in the camp much more comfortable.

Before moving into the new staff quarters, the guys in camp wanted to have a feast together. We spent the afternoon engaged in a chapati cook-off and then stuffed ourselves that evening with goat meat, beans, sakuma wiki, and chapatis...so many chapatis.

03 December 2010

School Supply Donations

At the end of November we went shopping for school supplies using the money that many different friends of the resource center donated over the past several months. Albert and Joel provided us with wish lists from two different nursery school teachers in the area. The four of us visited both schools and presented the donations on behalf of the generous donors who made the donations possible. We visited the nursery school at Darkalali first. We were greeted by a number of parents and community elders who were extremely grateful for the donation.

When we went inside we realized what a huge difference this small donation would make. The teacher had been relying on tattered hand-drawn charts to teach her students things like colors and letters, so the stack of new charts we gave her will most certainly be put to good use.

Here you can see the classroom for the "baby class." The 3-year-olds learn under this tree while the pre-school and kindergarten students learn inside the school. It made me wish we had been able to fit a classroom in the little trunk we brought.

A few days later we visited the nursery school at Embirika and gave the teacher the school supplies we had purchased. There were many parents and other members of the community in attendance to accept the donation and express their gratitude. We were even treated to some singing and dancing by some of the children and women. It was truly an honor and we thank those of you who donated for making it possible...you have touched many lives through your generosity.

Albert showed pictures from the book on animals that we picked out. It was a huge hit and the children's eyes absolutely lit up as they shouted out the names of the animals.

Albert said that most of the children at the school have probably never even seen a ball before, let alone actually played with one. The balls and jump rope should make their outdoor time more enjoyable and educational.

29 November 2010

Lion Update

The lion follows have been going well, though a few of the lions have been more difficult to locate as they spend more and more time in the thick bush near the escarpment. We have seen Ren, Stimpy, and Mwanzo much less frequently than we did a couple months ago because the thick bush makes it either impossible to get close to them or if we do get close we can't get a visual on them through the dense vegetation. Thankfully, Esipata, Kereng'ende, and Bolt have been cooperative and we collected a wealth of data in November. The highlights of the month included:
  • finding three giraffe carcasses killed by lions in the span of five days
  • collecting 15 lion fecal samples in one day
  • multiple encounters of 3 new male lions that seem to have settled in the study area
  • finding one of the new males courting one of the uncollared females from the Lengungu pride (Photos 1-3)
  • the next day finding another of the new males with Esipata (Photo 4)
  • tracking Kereng'ende and finding her after she had just killed and eaten a guinea fowl

28 November 2010

November School Visits

This month we visited several different schools with a number of different purposes. At the start of the month, we accompanied Joel Njonjo and Albert Kuseyo to Entasopia Primary School and Oloibortoto Primary School where they donated solar lights that had been purchased by a group that had visited the Resource Centre earlier this year. In this photo Joel is donating solar lights to the head teacher at Oloibortoto Primary School.

We also continued our weekly visits to the Patterson Memorial Secondary School's Wildlife Club. We held some interesting discussions, presented the Form 4 students (seniors) with certificates of participation we made for the club, and taught the students how to identify some of large mammal species in Olkiramatian and Shompole with an interactive presentation. They are on break now for a month but we are looking forward to the start of the new term in January and we already have several ideas for activities we will do when school resumes. In this photo the students are playing a game where I showed them a picture of a large mammal and they had to identify it correctly...they did very well. Maybe one day I can take them out and show them gerenuk and impala, then I don't think they'd confuse them again.

Toward the end of the month we visited the Embirika Nursery School with Joel and Albert so they could donate some school supplies that had been donated to the Resource Centre. There were many parents in attendance to show their support and to entertain us and the students performed a few songs for us as well. In this photo I am reading a book to the students and parents and Albert is translating it into Maasai. I think the parents enjoyed it as much as their children!

27 November 2010

Construction Update

Construction is definitely wrapping up at the Resource Centre. The workers made a lot of progress in November and many of us have already started benefiting from the new buildings. They are hoping to be completely finished in the next week or two so the camp is brimming with excitement about moving into all the new buildings.

In the researcher's part of camp we have been enjoying the new kitchen all month. The kitchen itself and the storage area has made cooking and eating much more pleasant.

Last week the plumber hooked up the water so we have running water in the kitchen as well!

On November 24th we had our very first meal in the new mess area. The views are beautiful, the raised wood floor is nice and cool, and a refreshing breeze blows freely through to the other side.

On Thanksgiving Day we moved out of the hot, cramped office tent and moved into the new office. We now have a comfortable, cool place to do computer work, read, and write. It's a major improvement.

29 October 2010

Bursary Update

As we approach the end of the school year, it seemed like a good time to visit the four local schools where there are girls sponsored by the bursary program. Albert Kuseyo, Joel Njonjo, and a representative from the Women's Group spoke with the principals and head teachers from each school to check on the progress of the girls. The students were all doing well and the teachers had very positive things to say about each of them. To learn more about the bursary program, read an earlier blog post here, and to donate to the program click on the donate button at the bottom of this page.

Students in Class 1 at Entasopia Primary School

Students outside Oloibortoto Primary School

Joel, a representative from the Women's Group, Albert and the teacher at the Komiti Nursery School talking about the sponsored girl's progress report

Albert, a girl sponsored by the bursary program and her friend, and a representative from the Women's Group in the Komiti School

Albert, Joel, and one of the sponsored girls with her teacher at the Olkiramatian nursery school

Grateful for Water

On October 16th, our community day took a different turn than it normally does. Instead of working with a group of teachers or students, we found ourselves helping the community in an entirely different capacity-to help restore water to the pipeline that feeds the Resource Center as well as many other sites down the line. It took a total of 4 days to find the problem (rocks clogging the pipe) and to repair it because out here the only way to find the problem is to guess where you think the problem is, dig up and separate a section of pipe, and then turn the water back on to see if water will flow. It was not an easy task, so it was great to see many members of the community coming together to help fix the problem, including 4 guys from the Resource Center. In the end, it was a good reminder of what a precious resource water is.

14 October 2010

Patterson Wildlife Club

This student volunteered to be the lion to show the rest of the group how the lion collars work and how we use the radio and antenna to track the radio collared lions.

This is the group of students and their teacher listening to Dave Christianson talk about the carnivore research project.

Wildlife Club members with Dave Christianson and Joel Njonjo. One of the students is pounding in the post that held the motion-sensing camera that was set up inside the school grounds.

Although the Resource Center is still under construction, we have started bringing school groups here so that they can see the buildings and understand the purpose of the Center and our research. The first group to visit was comprised of a teacher and thirteen Form 4 students (last year of secondary school) from Patterson Memorial Secondary School in Olkiramatian. The students were all members of the Wildlife Club at the school and were thrilled to see the buildings and to have the opportunity to learn about some of the projects taking place at the Center. The students learned about the carnivore research project and about some of the local wildlife in the area, asking thoughtful questions all along the way. They made their excitement and appreciation abundantly clear. We have been visiting the Wildlife Club every Thursday now for three weeks and look forward to continuing our visits to their school as well as bringing the rest of the Wildlife Club to the Center in the next few months.

One of the projects we have begun with the wildlife club involves the motion-sensing cameras that are used in the carnivore research project. On October 7th, we met with the club and explained how the cameras work and how they can be used to study wildlife. We discussed what types of data we could collect if they were set up on their school campus and what sorts of questions we could answer. The students then selected two sites (after much deliberation and discussion), one within the school grounds and one just outside the fence. They ultimately decided to set up the one inside the fence near a water source and the one outside the fence on a game trail with the idea that those places would be the most likely places where wildlife would congregate. After the two cameras were set up, the students made predictions about the types of pictures the two cameras would take. For example, some of their predictions include: that they will get more pictures on the camera outside the fence, that the camera inside the fence will probably take pictures of smaller animals, and that they will not get a picture of an elephant. The cameras will be deployed at those locations for at least a few weeks and then we will revisit the cameras and show the students what types of pictures they took. We are all anxious to see the results!

11 October 2010

Entasopia Teacher Visit

On October 9th, we had the pleasure of bringing nine teachers and two parents from Entasopia Primary School to the Resource Center for a tour with Albert Kuseyo, followed by the very first presentation in the brand new meeting hall building! Although the teachers were seated on makeshift benches amidst wood shavings, sawdust, and woodworking tools, the setting was perfect and it was the ideal way to inaugurate the new building. Joel Njonjo briefly spoke about the baboon project and then Dave and Erika Christianson discussed the carnivore research before the entire group embarked on a game drive into the Olkiramatian Conservancy. The evening started with a zebra sighting, then a a sighting of a herd of 17 eland, and at the end we were fortunate to locate one of the collared lions. Ren, a male lion, was resting in a woodland and we spent about an hour watching him and another male resting in the bushes before they got up and stretched and walked out of sight. Though, they didn’t leave without saying goodbye….they roared back and forth to one another several times while they were still very close to the vehicles – a thrilling experience for all of us!

A productive September

Going into the second week of October, we have been reflecting on September and the incredible month we had. In less than two weeks we saw our first cheetah, elephant, and leopard and frequently came across less common species like kudu, eland, and oryx. Every time we go into the field holds promise of something new or exciting to see as well as excellent conditions for collecting data on predator-prey interactions. And oh how the data have been flowing in! We have not had any trouble finding the lions, and in fact, several of the prides have been found within one mile of each other and not far from camp, making it easier to record locations and behaviors of multiple lion groups in a single evening or morning.

21 September 2010

This weekend we were excited to host Andrew Murray and Jasper Montana from the BBC's Natural History Unit. They are filming a series which is, for the moment at least, called 'Unnatural Histories' and they were interested in taking a look at the South Rift as an example of how people and wildlife coexist within the same landscape - a rare but precious part of their story. They were intrigued to find out how the local people feel about the concept of 'pristine wilderness' and the part that they as Maasai have played in shaping its ecology through time. They interviewed the Chairlady of the Olkramatian Women's Group, Titieyo Meiponyi and John Kamanga the Group Ranch Chairman as well as simply enjoyed the scenery.

We are happy to have finished a back-breaking week of transects and vegetation plots. It was quite an introduction to new carnivore research team, but I am happy to report that we all survived the long days and nights in the vehicle with almost all our bodies and minds in one piece, thanks to lots of tea breaks. I was very happy to see the enthusiasm Dave and Erika showed in trying out some new camera techniques which may make vegetation plots in the future much less laborious... if only we had started this three years ago!

03 September 2010

Construction Update

Construction of the buildings is coming along nicely. There are noticeable changes in some of the structures every day. From top to bottom: visitor's kitchen, staff housing, staff kitchen, local women making screens out of local materials, and research offices.