University of Nairobi Field Trip

A few weeks ago SORALO had the pleasure of hosting 18 University of Nairobi (Department of Geography and Environmental Studies) Masters students and their professor, Samuel Owuor, for an exposure tour of the South Rift landscape. The students came from a range of backgrounds – from biodiversity and natural resources management, water resources management, geomorphology, climatology, to environmental planning and management. While they were with us, they visited the various areas of the Olkiramatian and Shompole group ranches to understand the various land uses (the livestock rearing zone, the community conservancies/grass banks and the farming areas). They learned about the water issues through visiting the Oloibortoto water intake and talked to local WRUA representatives. They undertook a strenuous hike up the rift valley wall to see the different habitats, and enjoyed talks from the various resource assessor teams at the Lale’enok Resource Centre and went on a walk with the habituated baboon troop. On their trip down, they visited the Olorgesilie Prehistoric site and spent some time in the Magadi town learning about the Magadi Soda Factory on the way out.

The main aim of this fieldtrip was to expose the students to a variety of practical situations, people and landscapes in order to facilitate their learning. In addition, the institutional and personal ties between SORALO and the University of Nairobi were strengthened.

This field trip was the epitome of practical learning. It was also interesting to see the locals were the pioneers and at front line of all the conservation work being done in this part of the South Rift and made me see what sustainable livelihoods and environmental conservation should be” – Environmental Planning and Management student

The resource assessors and staff at Lale’enok thoroughly enjoyed the visit, as did the students, all of whom rated their experience at Lale’enok ‘very informative’ (5, on a scale of 1 to 5 presented in a Feedback Questionnaire). Other valuable feedback came out of the questionnaires we administered, and validated many of our efforts in the South Rift. We are grateful for the chance to have interacted with so many great young minds.

I would highly recommend this place for our department to engage more students in research work. This would give them an opportunity to meet their academic requirement while at the same time enrich the documentation of the work being done by the Research Centre…[if] we had a week here we would probably do more and learn more” – Environmental Planning and Management student

Stakeholder engagement in conservation is very important. SORALO has done this excellently” – Environmental Planning and Management student

I was so much impressed by the way SORALO has ensured maximum collaboration with the stakeholders and most importantly the landowners to make it work to conserve the area as well as enhancing the livelihoods. I didn’t know people can actually live with wildlife, but yes, it is possible” – Environmental Planning and Management student

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What I found most relevant in this trip was the practical experience to relate course work in class with actual stuff in the field. The chance to also relate with the community was a big plus” – Environmental Planning and Management student

Landforms describe all the geographical aspects of a place, be it biogeography, human geography, environmental geography, climatology, hydrology etc. This trip provided almost all landscape terrains; plains, mountains, escarpments, arid and semi-arid [lands] among others. All types of rock were available…the most interesting part was the sedimentary erosional cycles of Olorgasaille. That was breathtaking, and the fault line, in real life” – Geomorphology student

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Different layers of deposition can be identified and related well with what is taught in class” – Geomorphology student

When I came to this place I sincerely didn’t know what to expect. I came open-minded ready for anything. I’ve come to understand more about my country and gained knowledge and understanding about different ecosystems and the way they work and late with each other. Coming here was a great experience for me” – Environmental Planning and Management student

Many thanks to all those involved, and for your important feedback. Ashe oleng.

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Birds of Lale’enok

One of the often overlooked attractions of the OlKiramatian region, is its abundant variety of birds. Flocking by the thousand, they fill our skies, dot our trees, and enchant us with their songs of plenty. From Lilac-Breasted Rollers to Kori Bustards, you can spot a truly remarkable diversity, and our McGill interns this year set out to do just that. Whether under the pretences of research or the draw of curiosity, they spent their free time this summer searching out and photographing our local avian residents, and have provided their best photos for us to showcase to all of you one of Ol’Kiramatian’s many manifestations of biodiversity. Enjoy.

 

Fieldwork Completion, Feedback Meetings, and Reflections of an Anthropologist-In-Training

Soon, after almost three months working in the Olkiramatian and Shompole communities and calling Lale’enok Resource Centre home for the second summer in a row, it will be time to travel back to Canada. I’m Kathleen Godfrey, a Masters student from McGill University (Montreal, Canada) studying anthropology, in particular how Maasai people relate to land, livestock, wildlife, and what the experience of ‘conservation’ in these two South Rift communities looks like. Along with my outstanding research assistant and translator, Dan Sepis, I have spent my time learning from over 40 community members about the land management system(s) in place here, how people feel about them, what challenges and strengths individuals identify in their communities, and how wildlife, livestock, and humans manage to coexist in this ecosystem.

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Elders walk through an olopololi

In an effort to make my research more accessible to the wider Olkiramatian and Shompole community members, I held feedback meetings with all of my interviewees. Too often researchers come and ‘extract’ knowledge and information from their study sites without creating the space for further learning and conversation. I wanted to make sure that as many people as possible were clear on (1) the topics my research covered, (2) what my (very) general findings were, and (3) what I aimed to do with the information once I went back to Canada. I also wanted to provide an opportunity for anyone to raise questions or concerns they might have about my project, or about the issues discussed in general. It was wonderful to hear from elders, leaders, women, youth, and others at the feedback meetings while we lunched on goat and rice. In getting feedback from participants on the process of my research and even holding the feedback meetings themselves, I found everyone feeling exceedingly positive.

As my fieldwork wraps up, I want to express gratitude to everyone who took the time to speak with me, shared their opinions and lives with me, as well as those who made these conversations possible – all the SORALO staff at Lale’enok, Dan, and other kind strangers who let us know when the person we were looking for was “out watering his shoats and that [we] should return in an hour”.

I plan to come back in January 2018 to conduct a second round of feedback meetings in Olkiramatian and Shompole, and present interviewees with a brief report of findings after I have transcribed all of my interviews and have more in-depth information. I hope to make this research as collaborative as budgets allow, and look forward to my return.

Ashe oleng.

Kathleen

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Photo by Christina Puzzolo, former SORALO intern

Earth Expeditions 2017

This past week we’ve had the pleasure of hosting our annual Earth Expeditions team, and seeing their program in action has been a blast. Earth Expeditions is the result of a collaboration between the Miami University and the Cincinnati Zoo & Botanical Gardens, which partners with organizations around the world to bring together sharp, inquisitive minds to provide global learning opportunities. Here in Kenya, they study community based conservation and the Maasai traditional ecological knowledge that allows for human-wildlife coexistence.
The Lale’enok Resource Centre, with the help of the Community Resource Assessors and staff, created a week long program to keep them entertained and learning.
Each morning, the eighteen members, made up of graduate students, conservationists, and education professionals, broke up into teams to take turns experiencing some of what the centre has to offer. The group got to walk with the baboons with Sisco, go on a morning drive to learn about the issues of large carnivore research with Guy and his team, and get out into the field with the ecological rangeland monitoring experts to conduct wildlife counts and monitor vegetation cover. On top of the morning activities, everyone in Earth Expeditions got the chance to design their own inquiry projects, where they conducted short, focused experiments to try and answer questions about the South Rift landscape that they found interesting. The group was also treated to two game drives, a presentation about ecological and lion-human coexistence research, and a lecture from the Director of SORALO, John Kamanga.
The visit also offered the chance for a number of cross-cultural experiences. The group spent an evening visiting one of the nearby Maasai homesteads, where they saw demonstrations of day-to-day activities, milked goats, and talked to Maasai pastoralists about their livelihood strategies. Later, the Reto Women’s Group set up a market at the Centre where they sold their beadwork to the group. Lastly, several local schools came to Lale’enok to sing, dance, read poetry, and act, which the Earth Expeditions team then followed with their own cup-song performance.
Here is what some members of the Earth Expeditions team had to say about their experience at Lale’enok:
“The Earth Expeditions visit to Lale’enok was a once in a lifetime experience. We learned invaluable lessons about Maasai culture and community based conservation from those who know it best. What I will remember most is the warm and welcoming atmosphere and how passionate each community member is about their work and way of life.”
– Katie Pugh, Conservation Officer, Rainforest Trust
“Visiting Lale’enok Resource Centre​ ​was an inspiring​ ​and ​​invaluable​ ​experience​ ​both personally and professionally. One of the maxims of my organization is, “conservation is a human endeavour,” and​ ​the​ ​innovative community based conservation practiced​ at Lale’enok is an​ ​excellent example of this.​ The community driven ​system, utilizing Maasai researchers and game scouts is helping to improve both the ecosystem and livelihoods of individuals​ in the South Rift. ​Getting the opportunity to briefly participate in this​ ​unique endeavour and meet the people powering it is something I will always prize.”

– Dana Howard, AmeriCorps Program Manager,

Baboon walking with Sisco

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Early this morning, the interns headed out for a baboon-walk with Lale’enok’s baboon expert, Sisco. A typical walk with Sisco and the Empaleki troop, Lale’enok’s resident baboon troop, usually entails a short walk from one of the troop’s sleeping sites along the river to one of the feeding sites outside camp. Sisco knows every one of the 89 baboons in the Empaleki troop by name and can identify numerous different behaviors both by observation and by the sounds the baboons are making. Most walks include seeing the troop feed, play, and groom each other.

The interns were in for a big surprise today, however, when Sisco tracked the troop all the way across the Olkiramatian Road to a feeding site North of where the troop had ever traveled to before.

Sisco explained that Empaleki troop has a home range which they will defend from any neighboring baboon tribe. Within this home range are several sleeping sites where the troop can climb fig trees in which to spend the night. The home range allows access to the river to drink, and also has several food sources, such as Acacias, Fig trees, Tribulus, and Cordis. However, outside the home range are several feeding sites where the troop can feed on foods not found in the home range, such as the Mathenge tree and the Grewia ssp. These feeding sites are more precarious because they are far from the safety of the sleeping sites and are also in territory that is not formally held by the troop. This means they could potentially encounter other rival baboon troops. Nevertheless, the troop will sometimes travel the distance to these sites in order to access some of their favorite food sources that are not in the home range.

Today, the baboon troop ventured to a location that Sisco has never seen them go to before. By traveling to this new area, the Empaleki troop has expanded their range and incorporated a new feeding site into their repertoire.  Sisco explained that when the troop is considering using a new feeding site, they will send out emissaries, often young and fit members of the troop, to scout out potential locations. After the scouts identify an area with food, they will inform the troop and lead them to it. Today was the first time that the entire troop traveled to this new feeding site!

With Sisco’s extensive knowledge of the Empaleki troop, we were able to construct a map showing the troop’s home range, sleeping sites, normal feeding sites, and the newly accessed feeding site. Check it out below!

Baboon Range Final

On this morning walk, we also spotted James, one of the males of the troop. James lost a leg three weeks ago for unknown reasons, though Sisco suspects that he was speared. At first, James had a lot of difficulty keeping up with the troop when they went out to the feeding sites. He initially would hang back in the safety of the sleeping site and eat whatever food he could find there. However, three weeks since his injury, we saw James venture all the way to the new feeding site with the rest of the Empaleki troop. He appeared to be comfortable walking with his three legs and was engaged in social interactions with the rest of the troop. Though he will always be a bit slower and thus more susceptible to being caught by predators, Sisco believes that James will be able to adapt to having three legs and live a long life despite his injury. Sisco will continue to keep an eye out for James, and he is hopeful that people staying at the Lale’enok Resource Centre will be able to see James on baboon walks for many years to come.

 

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James

 

New ‘Market Study’ to begin at the Centre

Recently here at the Lale’enok Resource Centre, the ecological monitoring team has started running a new study which is aimed at better understanding the livestock markets in the area. The team began this new research project because they believe that collecting comprehensive information on the prices of livestock may be useful to pastoralists in making decisions about their animals. Ideally, through doing this study, the ecological monitoring team will become able to share the most up-to-date information about the market with local community members, perhaps when they are out doing field work, or maybe even simply during social interactions. Additionally, by tracking fluctuations in the livestock market, the team may also be able to establish correlations to factors such as droughts and population growth, and thus try to learn how these dynamics are affecting the community’s economy over time. The data from the market study will also be a form of record keeping, as it will document some of the developing changes that are occurring in this community’s livestock market, such as a growing Tanzanian presence in the Shompole Market.

Every Tuesday, the Shompole Market is the epicenter for buying and selling livestock for many Maasai communities in the South Rift. Pastoralists travel for miles from Kenya and Tanzania both to sell their animals and to restock their herd, while businessmen from Nairobi buy livestock in bulk to send back to the city in lorries. On May 30, the team made a preliminary trip to the Shompole Market in order to gauge some of the logistical realities that would need to be considered in order to conduct a study. Afterwards, the team had a brainstorming meeting and decided on which data would be useful and realistic to measure. They decided that the best way to collect meaningful data is to spend the entire duration of market day standing outside the gates of the main boma and record information about each group of livestock that leaves.

Ultimately, the team decided to track the number of each type of animal that is for sale at the market, whether the animal was sold (and, if so, whether it is for restocking a pastoralist’s herd or for sale in a city), and whether the animal came from Tanzania or Kenya. Additionally, the team will obtain several samples of prices for different types of animals, which will then be averaged to generate a mean price (cow prices will be divided into three categories based on the size of the cow). Lastly, the team will also record the tax rates for the county and Shompole group ranch, as well as the prices of staples such as ugali, flour, and sugar. By working with all this data, the team can ascertain estimates for the total tax generated by the county and group ranch, as well as the total amount of money exchanged at the market (which can be subdivided into Kenyan and Tanzanian markets).

On June 6, the market study had its first trial and, aside from certain boxes being too small on the data sheet, it was a success. The ecological monitoring team and everyone at Lale’enok are excited to see the data from the new market study accumulate, and are hopeful that it will lead to useful and interesting insights down the road!

**Pictured in this post is Joel Meja, a member of the ecological monitoring team, in action, speaking to livestock vendors and counting shoats leaving the market!**

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.