SORALO’s work featured on Mongabay!

We are so excited to be able to share this article, written by Michael Parks, about the work that SORALO does, and why we do it. It was wonderful to host Michael at Lale’enok and engage him in conversation about the coexistence model that we are promoting in the South Rift through our various programmes.

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Maasai Clan Totem Guide Developments

For the last few years, Joel has been working with local schools and their Wildlife Clubs to create a Maasai Clan Totem (Animal) Guide Book. Finally, the time is right to move the project forward as it compliments the curriculum that Kathleen has been helping to develop since October 2018. With renewed energy and the design skills Kathleen brings to the table, we have a working draft of the guide book and are excited to announce that it will be translated from English into Maa, with both languages featured.

The goal of the project has always been to connect Maasai youth to clan totem associations, songs, and histories, drawing from community elders and their vast knowledge. As is SORALO’s way, we add to these cultural perspectives ecological information that might be interesting to students.

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Our draft cover and Table of Contents.

We plan to use the Guide Book in Term Three of the Junior Pastoral Conservationist Programme in local Wildlife Clubs, and so there are still many weeks ahead for final revisions and English-Maa translations. We will be excited to use the Guide Book as a tool to engage youth in conversations about Maasai culture and affiliations with wildlife species that are aligned with conservation values.

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Joel, Kathleen, and John Kamanga go over a first draft. Photo by Dan Sepis.

Wildlife Club Patron Training

IMG_9281The school year kicking off in January also marked the beginning of our Education Outreach team’s roll out of Wildlife Club lesson guides! On Saturday, January 19th, Joel and Kathleen welcomed Wildlife Club patrons, club representatives, and Head Teachers from the six schools (Olkiramatian Primary, Oloibortoto Primary and Secondary, Entasopia Primary, Patterson Secondary, and Oloika Primary) that we’re engaging with as part of the Junior Pastoral Conservationist Programme to participate in a training session and introduction to the programme and the lesson guides for Term One at Lale’enok.

Because educators had been away over the school holiday, introducing the lesson guides in person and walking through the genesis of the whole program, and the SORALO approach, was important before introducing students to it. The programme was met with questions, and excitement by the educators as the group worked through issues as they arose in conversation, for example balancing what was logistically possible in the structure of the school and what our Education Outreach team saw as the ideal set up. It was wonderful to collaborate with patrons and head teachers in this way.

We all had lots of fun running through the activities and lessons together, acting out the “waggle dance” of bees, conducting our own mini investigation into bird species richness, and thinking how the teachers would facilitate each lesson and make it their own!

As only the first step in the process of relationship-building and support that SORALO envisions for the implementation of the program in Wildlife Clubs, we were so grateful that teachers took time to participate in the training session, and are looking forward to working together in the future.

 

 

Gift Giving and Celebrations on the Horizon

Some very exciting celebrations are on the horizon for the Olkiramatian and Shompole communities: the graduation of the current warriors (left hand: Ilmengwarra, right hand: Ilmerishi) into junior eldership. It is common for community members to bring gifts and contribute to the three-days long celebration for each community, which take place in the manyattas, or communal homesteads, where all members of the age set and their families live for several months before graduation. Feeling a part of these communities, SORALO wanted to invest in the occasion and celebrate the young men’s passage to the next phase of their lives. A few days ago, SORALO Director, John Kamanga, and other representatives were joined by our conservation partners in the area – Lentorre Lodge and Shompole Wilderness staff – in delivering food stuffs to each manyatta as a gift.

It was wonderful to enjoy chai, nyama, and some soupu with the young men as well as their age-set fathers and key members of the leadership in both Shompole and Olkiramatian. While many of the conservation-related decisions in both communities have been made by those older generations, SORALO believes that building strong relationships with future leaders is part of securing the landscape and allowing pastoralism and conservation to persist in these areas. The gifts of chai, flour, cooking fat, rice, mosquito nets, and sugar were made possible through the conservation work that SORALO, Lentorre Lodge and Shompole Wilderness, do in the area.

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Oloibortoto Secondary visits for a Lale’enok Educational Weekend!

On October 6th and 7th we welcomed twenty-two students from the new Oloibortoto Secondary School to join us for our last Lale’enok Educational Weekend of the season, coordinated and led by Joel Njonjo. Starting in September, we have been hosting local school children at the Resource Centre to participate in hands-on and experiential activities to get a sense of the work that SORALO resource assessors do at Lale’enok, and to learn about our erematare approach which blends ecological and traditional knowledge (cultural) teachings.

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Peter from Ecological Monitoring leading a session with the students. Photo by Samantha Russell.

The students participated in six educational sessions, the first of which included presentations by our resource assessors in Ecological Monitoring, the Rebuilding the Pride team, and our Scouts. Following lunch, our invited community elders took the floor to speak with the young people about Maasai cultural values such as enkanyiet (respect), telling stories of the past and touching on cultural and ecological changes. In the early evening, the students were taken on a game drive through the Olkiramatian and Shompole conservancies and saw two cheetahs and one lion, which was the first time that most of them had seen those animals in the flesh. After their long day of learning, the students spent the night at Lale’enok.

On Sunday morning, Samantha tied the learnings from the previous day to the SORALO approach, and explained how we work and what we are working towards. To bring the day to a close Joel led the students in some fun land use games to demonstrate all that they had learned over the two days. Many laughs were had by all, and we hope that every student went away with at least one new idea!

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The entire group out front of the Resource Centre after a great weekend!

Welcoming Back Kathleen as an OceanPath Fellow

We are excited to welcome back Kathleen Godfrey, now a McGill University graduate with an MA in Anthropology. Kathleen worked with SORALO in summer 2016 as an Institutional Canopy of Conservation (I-CAN) intern, and again in summer 2017 to conduct her Masters fieldwork with the Olkiramatian and Shompole communities. Her thesis, which she has brought copies of to be housed at Lale’enok, is titled “Toward Erematare, Beyond Conservation: Meaning, practice, and rethinking the conservation story in the Maasai communities of Olkiramatian and Shompole, Kajiado County, Kenya”. Digital copies of Kathleen’s thesis are available by request, please feel free to email her at kathleen.godfrey@gmail.com. You can download an infographic she created of her thesis here: Godfrey-Thesis(2018)-Infographic.

Kathleen returns to us as an OceanPath Fellow, and will be working at Lale’enok for six months to facilitate the creation of a culturally-relevant conservation curriculum for local primary and secondary level wildlife clubs as part of SORALO’s education outreach programme. We are excited that Kathleen was awarded this fellowship opportunity to continue working with us at Lale’enok and support us in the development of our Junior Pastoral Conservationist Programme, the guiding Maa principles of which are erematare (management and care), enkanyiet (respect), and entaisere (see a future). Both Kathleen and SORALO understand that all efforts toward ecological and cultural conservation will be fruitless if the youth are not engaged, and so we look forward to dedicating the next six months to crafting a curriculum that tells the complex story of the South Rift ecosystems as supporting livestock, people, and wildlife.

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The team met with community elders to verify the information in the Maasai Clan Totem Guide Book we are working on, which will be a bilingual publication, in English and Maa.

The tools and experience that Kathleen brings to the table – not to mention her enthusiasm – will help ensure that the planning and creation of this curriculum for local student wildlife clubs applies an asset-based and community-driven lens, which are core to SORALO and Lale’enok’s information-for-action approach. You can download our programme Theory of Change here: JPCP-TOC.

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Everything we are working on is part of an iterative process, and making sure we get external input – in this case from SORALO Director John Kamanga – is key to this!

            Presently, we have moved beyond the planning stages of the initiative and are creating curriculum content and resources such as the Maasai Clan Totems Guide Book to complement the lesson plans, which will be implemented in the new year!

Heaviest Rains in 10 years!

May and June this year have been unique in terms of rainfall and the effects of these precipitations. For those living in the area, the changes this rain has brought have been significant and wide-ranging. Looking at the graph below it is clear that from March to June 2018 (outlined by the red box) has been the highest amount of precipitation in since 2005.

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Graph realised on R by Freddie Hunter.
Data from The Tropical Rainfall Measuring Mission (TRMM), designed to monitor and study tropical rainfall.
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A couple of zebras enjoying the high grass.
Picture by Teneille Arnott
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A European stork looking for food in the expanded watering hole.
Picture by Léonie Borel

Shompole and Olkiramatian are semi-arid rangelands in which the functioning of this ecosystem is highly influenced by rainfall patterns. The effects of the high precipitation have been wide-ranging in this rain-controlled environment.  The rain has not only increased both biodiversity and biomass, but it has also resulted in vegetation growth in areas where grass has not grown in many years. This rainwater has been absorbed into the soil producing grasses and herbs that became healthy pasture for the livestock, resulting in a lot of healthy and happy cows!

This rain has contributed significantly to improving the health of the ecosystem. Plant life supports so many parts of the ecosystem it is difficult to quantify. Green plants have higher nutrients and minerals therefore contributing to the health of herbivores in the area, which then provide food for the local carnivores. The higher precipitation has also resulted in water building up in areas that did not previously have water. These areas have become watering holes for the wildlife in the area, as you can observe in the following pictures.r_4

Unfortunately, the high precipitation has also lead to damage as it drowned some species of trees along the river, and rose higher than the bridge. This year, the floods destroyed more than 1997 or 2002, and this damage can be observed by walking around the area. The rains were so intense that some people experienced damage or loss of their land or bomas. Several other challenges arose from the heavy rains, including a disease outbreak among cattle and shoats, putting additional pressure on herd owners to buy medicine for their animals.

Lale'enok facilitates the advancement of community livelihoods, sustainable resource management and human-wildlife coexistence through the integration of research, livestock development, tourism, and other income generating community projects. As a physical place for information storage and sharing, the centre provides the community with a forum to engage partners in knowledge creation, dissemination and application.