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.
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.
Photo by Christina Puzzolo, former SORALO intern
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.
Feedback Meeting at Lale’enok Resource Centre
Myself, Dan, and Chairlady of the Kileken Women’s Group in Oloika, Shompole
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.
This past week we’ve had the pleasure of hosting our annualEarth 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.”
“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.”
We here at the Lale’enok Resource Centre are proud to announce that we’ve expanded our facilities to include five more permanent tents. These are to facilitate the student groups that come through the centre, and come just in time for the boys from Glenstal Abby School, who arrive today on their annual visit from Ireland.
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!
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.
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!**
This past week at the Lale’enok Resource Centre has been an exciting one for the Reto Women for Olkiramatian Group, who, for the first time, has been using their new brick-making machine to construct bricks made out of soil and cement. The Group intends to make money both by selling bricks and by renting out the machine to the community. Using a 1:12 ratio of cement to soil, the Group was able to construct 70 bricks with 50 Kilograms of cement, 10 Liters of water, and 600 Kilograms of soil.
On Monday, the Women’s Group was given a presentation about how to use the machine. First, sand must be collected from the bush and filtered so that only fine-grain soil is mixed with the cement. The soil-cement blend is then rigorously mixed by hand as water is added. This continues until the mixture is broken down into only fine grains. The soil-cement combination is then shoveled into the machine where it is molded and condensed into a brick. The newly formed bricks are then left out to dry, after which they are usable. The Women’s Group went to work right away making bricks with the remaining cement!
These bricks are beneficial to the community in several ways. The Maasai have traditionally made fires by surrounding a small, open-air fire with three stones. However, the Group now has a new design for making fires with the bricks, with which they hope to replace the stone model. This brick design allows the fire to retain heat more efficiently, which means that less wood is required to generate the same amount of heat. This puts less pressure on the environment because it allows the community to use fewer trees for fires. Additionally, the design is built to heat up several pots at once, unlike the stone-method which can only heat one pot at a time. The brick model also heats up the pans more quickly. Lastly, the bricks produce less smoke than the stone-fire method, which offers extensive health benefits!
On Thursday, the Women’s Group used 15 of their bricks to construct a stove, which they will now use for cooking while at the Lale’enok Resource Centre. They created a perimeter of bricks and then placed four metal beams across it to create four slots for pots. They then sealed the design with mud.
Please check out the photos on this blog to see step by step how the Women’s Group turned soil and cement into a functional stove!
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.