|Day 1 Monday||Day 2 Wednesday||Day 3 Friday||Day 4 Saturday||Day 5 Sunday|
Day 1 Monday: Day in the Field on Expedition, Serengeti National Park
Today is the first of our five-day expedition in the Serengeti. We left Moyo Hill and drove a few hours to the park, pitched our tents at the camp site, and set out into the field for a game drive and field exercise. First, we swung by the Oldupai Gorge where hominid fossils were first discovered. Our assignment for the day was a bird identification exercise. We had to identify the different species of birds we saw and the habitat types in which we found them with the help of our guide books and binoculars.
Tomorrow we’ll finish up the exercise by doing point counts all over the park to get the population densities. After taking a break for lunch, we met with lecturers from the Serengeti Lion Project and the Chief Ecologist of the park to discuss current research projects and techniques, and the science behind the conservation efforts. We finished the day with an evening game drive past a pride of lions, a cheetah in pursuit of a warthog, a hippo pool, and two male elephants in a stand-off. We enjoyed our dinner around the campfire, and reflected on the sights and sounds of the day.
Day 2 Wednesday: Community Service Day with Kids
While many of us were drawn to this program by our love for wildlife and dedication to conservation, we are constantly reminded that the human aspect is just as important. I was surprised by how open and friendly the local people are—especially the kids! We were invited to a local primary school today to give presentations to students about conservation and the environment. The children welcomed us with traditional Maasai and Kamba dances, and we spoke to them about different animal species—especially those that are endangered—and how the food chain works. We also helped them draw pictures of plants and animals, and tried to emphasize how humans and the environment are connected. We spent the rest of the day singing, dancing, and playing games in the school yard. Their smiles are souvenirs money can’t buy.
Day 3 Friday: Lectures After the Sunrise
Even an average day at the center is a far cry from your typical day of class in college. We were up around 6 a.m. today. It was the “Kamba” crew’s turn to help make breakfast, so they headed off to the kitchen to start making eggs, pancakes, toast, and whatever else the cooks let them create. The rest of us ventured out on a nature walk just outside the center—early morning is the best time to observe the animal activity from the night before. Our guide helped us identify animal tracks and droppings, and we watched the gorgeous sunrise over the savannah. Around 7 a.m. we heard the breakfast bell ring and we all rushed back to camp to start the day.
Today we had two 2-hour lectures in the morning—one from our ecology professor on plant-herbivore interactions and the impact of large mammals on vegetation, and one from our policy and socioeconomic issues professor discussing the pros and cons of community-based conservation models. We took a break for lunch and to stretch our legs with a pick-up soccer game, and then we had a visitor from the Kenya Wildlife Service come to give us a lecture on management strategies and challenges faced by Kenya’s conservation sites.
There is so much more to these national parks than the average tourist would ever expect! We spent the rest of the afternoon on a game drive around the center to observe the herds of wildebeest, giraffe, and zebra that frequent the area. No day is complete without a trip to see the wildlife!
Day 4 Saturday: Directed Research to Help the Community
We are in the thick of it with our directed research projects now on day three of seven for data collection. If only there was more time! The Wildlife Ecology group has spent their days out in Amboseli National Park and the surrounding areas conducting large mammal population counts and comparing conditions outside the park to those inside to attempt to answer questions such as these: What impact do the national parks have on wildlife dispersal patterns? Are they a negative or positive influence on wildlife populations? How can we better monitor the populations to determine their viability?
Other students are focusing on the social and political factors at hand. They have been trekking through the Maasai pastoral communities to interview local farmers and try to understand how their livelihoods have transitioned over the years from nomadic groups to more sedentary agricultural communities, what their perception of conservation and the environment is, and what the implications of these human wildlife conflicts might be for the Amboseli ecosystem. The days are long, the sun is hot, and the language barrier is a challenge, but the valuable field skills we are learning and the opportunity to give local people a voice in the policy-making process is well worth it.
Day 5 Sunday: A Much-Needed Non-Program Day
With only one day off per week, we try to fit in as many activities as possible! Today we traveled to Loitokitok, just about a half hour away from KBC, to do some sightseeing. We hiked down to the bottom of a gorge, and there was even a waterfall, which made the steep climb back up worth it. Some students opted to attend a local church service after the hike. Church services here usually last a few hours with all the singing and dancing! The rest of us visited a local clinic for HIV/AIDS victims.
It was so incredible to talk with the women there and to learn about the efforts this clinic is making to not only help people cope with the disease, but also to raise awareness and eliminate the stigma associated with HIV/AIDS and its victims. We spent the rest of the day wandering in the marketplace, buying local artwork, jewelry, traditional clothing, and tire sandals, and chatting with local people.
The Swahili we’ve learned in class is really starting to make conversations easier! Finally, we relaxed at Club Kimana with some good food (pizza!) and cold drinks.