30 April 2010

New Lioness Needs a Name

We were fortunate to radio-collar a new female lion this week! As we mentioned in earlier posts, the distribution of lions has changed dramatically since the long rains began in March, the Maasai people moved to the east side of the river to graze their livestock, and the zebra and wildebeest herds have moved out from their drought refuges. We have been following our radio-collared lions as they literally move around now unoccupied bomas (homes), hunting the plentiful zebra, wildebeest, and grants gazelle. In the process, we’ve encountered several groups of unidentified lions and cubs, pushing the limits of what we thought we knew about the region’s lion population. As such, we took advantage of a good situation to radio-collar a 4 year-old female lion from a group of 3 females. She is strong and healthy, the largest of our 3 radio-collared females. We now have 5 lions radio-collared (3 female, 2 males) in the area. Surely, following this new lion will help clarify how many lions there are in this seemingly ever-growing population, and provide further insight into how the Maasai people are able to coexist with lions and other large predators in the South Rift Valley of Kenya.

However, we would like to provide “Lion #5” a better name, and want to offer our supporters the chance to help name her. So, for the next week, we encourage you to email us (schuette@montana.edu) your favorite suggestions for this newly collared lion. In one week, we will pick our favorite 4-5 names, and hold a vote. Details will be provided by twitter (follow our tweets at ‘southrift’), on facebook (become friends with Paul Schuette, Christine Kovash, Samantha Russell, or Joel Njonjo), and here on the blog. Think hard and send us your favorite lion names…

06 April 2010

Solar Lights come to the South Rift!

Olkiramatian Women partner with D.light solar lighting company

We are excited to report that the Olkiramatian Women’s Group - now officially registered as the Olkiramatian Reto Community Based Organization – have launched a new small business. The Women have formed a partnership with D.Light (http://www.dlightdesign.com/) solar lighting products, and are becoming official distributors in the Olkiramatian area.

For much of rural Africa, electricity is not an option, forcing most families to light their nights with kerosene lanterns and flashlights/torches. A dependence on these types of light has many drawbacks: kerosene lanterns are extremely dangerous because of the risk of fire, the toxic fumes are a major cause of illness, and kerosene is expensive and often difficult to get in remote areas. These risks, and the poor light quality they provide, also prevent many school children from studying with kerosene lanterns at night. Battery-powered torches/flashlights used in this area are of extremely low quality as are the locally available batteries they require. As a result, people have to frequently replace their broken flashlights/torches and/or their batteries. This is expensive and an environmental and health hazard. There is currently no way for local people to dispose of old batteries properly, hence leaking battery acids end up in the soil and water.

Luckily, the good people at D.Light are well aware of the situation in rural areas around the world and are doing their part to alleviate poverty and promote sustainable environmental practices. They have a lofty goal in mind – to eliminate the world of the kerosene lantern.

Here in the South Rift, the Olkiramatian Women have been searching for ways to reinvest their camping fees from the past 2 years into small businesses. They also wanted to find an appropriate business that promotes the Resource Centre’s goals to integrate conservation, development, and education. After careful thought, it was decided the sale of solar lights represented all of these goals – solar lights would decrease dependence on kerosene and battery products, provide a sustainable light source for each home, allow children to study safely at night, and provide a small business opportunity that will develop the Women’s Group, which in turn, will help sustain their new projects, including the school bursary program.

After a month of ‘field-testing’ D.Lights products, the Women invited representatives from D.Light to visit the camp and discuss the possibility of becoming a local distributor. To everyone’s great delight (pun intended), a partnership was formed and the women purchased their first modest stock of Kiran, Solata, and Nova lights. The Women are working out the details of marketing strategies, sale prices, business management strategies, etc., and hope to offer these lights for sale as soon as possible. All in all, everyone at the Resource Centre is extremely excited about this new venture, and very proud the Olkiramatian Reto Community Based Organization will lead the way providing solar lights to their community.

Olkiramatian Lion Update

The lions have been very active since the long rains began in March (maybe you’ve been following our tweets …). I’ll give you an update on 1 of the 3 prides we’ve been following in Olkiramatian, showcasing the wonders and frustrations of studying lions on community lands:

Sampu Pride:
We have to start with this group as we’ve been studying them since the beginning – Mwanzo (Swahili for ‘the beginning’) – a female we collared in July 2008. We are happy to report she is doing well, and we just observed her 2 nights ago with 4 young cubs, less than 3 months old. We estimate the date of birth sometime between early January and early February. We had seen her and other females mating with Mkubwa (a collared male in the Sampu pride) last year. Mwanzo had been a bit of a mystery for most of January as we were unable to locate her, but she started making herself visible in early February. This all seems to make pretty good sense now as females often disappear on their own into the thick bush for birth and the early weeks with the cubs. We will try and post pictures when we can. Right now we’re only watching them with night vision binoculars, which Mwanzo tolerates, but not any visible light at this stage.
Mkubwa was missing for the first few months of the year, but we finally saw him up north towards Nguruman, a more agricultural area with permanent settlements. We’ve been a bit concerned about what he and the other male have been up to as there have unfortunately been about 7 lion attacks on livestock in Olkiramatian in the past 6 weeks. Most reports have been of a single male lion, so we are trying to monitor Mkubwa closely to see if he is the responsible lion or not. Fortunately, the collective efforts of SORALO, led by John Kamanga, community leaders, KWS (Kenya Wildlife Service), ACC, David Western, Scott Creel, and all of us at the Resource Centre have been actively discussing with community members on ways to help alleviate further attacks. Most importantly, the community here still moves traditionally to the east side of the river during the long rains of March and April, away from most lion activity. We hope this traditional practice will promote continued coexistence, and prevent any major retaliatory actions that are common across much of East Africa. This also stresses the importance of community members receiving tangible benefits from living with wildlife. The Resource Centre is the base for many such projects: the Women’s Group sponsoring children to go to school, the Women’s small businesses like the recent solar lighting program and bead work, conservation & camping fees from visiting research groups, and the employment of 15 community members in community-based research programs. But, there is always more that can be done to bring benefits back to the individual household, which is essential for conservation and development programs to succeed in the long term. As always, we welcome any suggestions you may have…

05 April 2010

It is a small world.

It is indeed a small world, and forgive me while I explain how Michael Chung and his family ended up visiting two pre-schools and a clinic in Olkiramatian, bringing well-needed gifts rulers and pencils for all the students.

One of the participants for last years Earth Expeditions group, Daniel Grigson, is a teacher at a school in Ohio. He has established an Environment Club at the school and it is through this club and others such as the Cincinnati Zoo that money was raised to support our Drought Relief efforts in pre-schools across the South Rift. One of the young girls who helped raise money through this Environment Club was Madeline. Madeline's family are close family friends with Dr. Michael Chung who lives and works here in Kenya. Michael Chung and his family wanted to visit the places where Madeline's efforts had been valuable and give her family as close a connection with the region as was possible, without actually visiting themselves.

We thank the Chung family for their kind gifts to the schools as well as visiting the local clinic and buying lots of Maasai items from the parents at the schools to send back to Madeline and her family and for bringing all our worlds that little bit closer together.

As an additional aside, Daniel is planning to bring some of the children from his school to Olkiramatian this year to participate in a joint Maasai Music Project, where the children will spend time with the local Primary school and enbark on creating and recording music together. For more details go to http://web.me.com/danielgrigson/LBMS_Environmental_Club_Home_Page/Maasai_Music_Project.html . I know they are still looking to raise the money to make this happen.