Meet the I-CAN Interns!

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Each year SORALO welcomes two summer interns through the Institutional Canopy of Conservation. Read more about them below!

Hi! I’m Elizabeth and I’m entering my fourth year of my undergraduate degree at McGill University in Montréal, Canada; however, I call the United States my home as I grew up just west of Philadelphia. I am pursuing a degree in Geography, with minors in Economics and GIS and Remote Sensing. I enjoy doing almost everything outdoors-related, and so was naturally drawn to the field of conservation as I found it a good mix between my degree and my non-academic interests. I am excited to be here helping out at SORALO as it lets me put skills I learned in my degree to good use. More specifically, I am excited to be working on GIS projects, and learning about the coexistence of wildlife and people in the region. It is also my first time to Kenya (and Africa too) and I am eager to learn and explore as much as possible!

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Elizabeth and her map!

Hi! My name is Victoria and I’m originally French and American but I spent my most formative years in Kenya, so I would consider it my home. Like Elizabeth, I’m finishing up my last year as a McGill undergrad, majoring in Geography and minoring in Environment. Growing up, I always had a keen interest in the natural world since my family spent most weekends in national parks, and I realized in high school that I wanted to spend my adult life studying the environment and putting all my efforts into protecting it. I’m incredibly grateful to be a part of the team here and play a part in achieving SORALO’s goals. 

Some projects that we are or will be working on include a map displaying fences and nutrient areas (bomas) between the Maasai Mara and Amboseli National Parks, a game scout handbook, assistance with the Junior Pastoralist Conservation Programme, and updating this blog with all that is happening around the centre.

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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.

Training in remote sensing and GIS

Report for Workshop on Rangelands Decision Support Tools

On June 28th 2018, the Regional Centre for Mapping of Resources for Development (RCMRD) held a 4-day workshop. This training focused on increasing the capacity of decision makers to use the Rangelands Decision Support Tools. The invited nominees from SORALO were, myself, Joel Meja Sumare, and Steiner Sempeta Kisioki. The RCMRD invited many institutions including:

  • NRT
  • KWSA
  • ACC
  • SORALO
  • MUGIE CONSERVANCY
  • KWFS
  • NAMUNYAK CONSERVANCY
  • LEWA CONERVANCY

The workshop included discussions, presentations, and practical exercises to explore the indicators for the assessment and monitoring of rangelands. The training contributed to my understanding of vegetation and water surface components of rangelands using the decision support tools of RCMRD.

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The guidelines on how we introduced our work and our institution

These tools offer a way for users to select indicators of vegetation health by combining it to produce maps at different administrative and monitoring levels (such as boma mapping, water resource mapping, market survey etc.). During the training we shared information on how we collect data from the field, how we enter that data, and how we then analyze it to be used for publishing and to be shared with the community. Our discussions with the other institutions showed that we have different methods of data collection, for example we collect our data once a month, other institutions collect twice a year, and others once a year. Despite this difference we have all found similar results in reference to the water service component.

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Steiner Sempeta Kisioki and myself, Joel Meja Sumare during a training session

The training has increased my capacity to create maps, to monitor vegetation and to monitor the variance of water levels according to season and month. I also learned some basic GIS skills, which have helped me improve my ability to create maps with QGIS, a program used by SORALO. I would like to have more GIS training and improve my skills in order to understand how we create maps and how they can be presented to both the community and students in a useful way.

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The workshop coordinator checking the homework of the students

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A group discussion on how to create maps using Rangelands Decision Support Tools

ICAN interns join SORALO

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Every year SORALO welcomes student interns from the Institutional Canopy of Conservation (ICAN). Read below to find out more about them:

Hi ! My name is Léonie. I was born in France but I consider Montréal, Canada, like my home. I am currently finishing  my undergrad in International Development and Geography at McGill University. I spend few months in Kenya with the McGill University’s Canadian Field Studies in East Africa (CFSIA) program, where I fell in love with the country.  I am passionate by food security, community-based initiatives and conservation. I love traveling, looking at a sky full of stars and chapatti! This internship is an opportunity for me to put in practice what I learned at university.  Through my work with SORALO, I hope to learn more about the balance between the community needs and conservation, and traditional ecological knowledge. I believe the work SORALO is doing as a community-based conservation is essential for the conservation and communities of the South Rift.

Jambo, my name is Teneille but most people call me Ten for short! I was born and raised in Montreal Canada and I am pursuing an undergraduate degree at McGill University. I major in International Development with a double minor in Anthropology and History. I love travelling, meeting new people, and spending time outdoors (especially when it involves mountains)! I am very grateful for the opportunity to come to Kenya and learn from the Shompole and Olkiramarian communities as well as the researchers at Lale’enok. I value that SORALO acknowledges the importance of using both traditional ecological knowledge and scientific research as a means to understanding the surrounding environment. Over my next few months here I hope to explore the complexities of conservation from both social and ecological perspectives. I am fascinated by the coexistence of wildlife and humans in this area and I am eager to learn more!

In the past month we have spent at the Lale’enok Resource Center, we have worked on numerous projects and have realized that our duties as interns are diverse and can change at any time! So far, we have been working on projects related to SORALO’s Cultural Leadership pillar. Currently we are finishing a Herbarium composed of the plants in the area and a description which includes both the Maasai and Latin names. Additionally, we are working alongside the brilliant Joel Njonjo to finish a clan book that will be used by the surrounding schools. This book will contain information about each of the Maasai clans, their totem animals and folktales. It is filled with illustrations made by the students of various schools in the Olkiramatian and Shompole area. Lastly, we have compiled and simplified various Kenyan Law Acts that may be relevant to the communities. In our remaining time here, we hope to finish as many projects as possible and continue to learn from the community members!

 

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.