Professor Dan Rubenstein's Email from Kenya
March 6, 2006

Dear Parents of Kenyan EEBers,

Today marks the end of the first part of the mammal course so it is time for an update before we head off on safari where email contact will be erratic at best. As many of you know, the aim of the mammal course was to get your kids to not only learn about this fascinating group of vertebrates--their evolution, their taxonomy and details about their ecology, life histories and sociality--from my lectures and a series of structured readings, but to have them learn about a mammal species and a issue concerning its biology from observing the species in the field.

After some preliminary observations they then were to perform some simple experiments or judicious comparisons to answer the specific questions they proposed. To do all of this in a week we had to climb a steep learning curve during the first two days so the students were well enough grounded in key fundamentals and concepts so they could customize and shape an original field project. And then with only 4 days to do the work we all put in some very long days with at least two sessions in the field sandwiched around discussions of readings.

In the end I think the students surprised even themselves by all they accomplished and at what such a high level. Today was presentation day and each group presented their question, methods, findings, conclusions and inferences from very professionally crafted powerpoint presentations. The clarity of the arguments and the appropriateness of the the graphics were outstanding; some of the graphics were even new to me! Each talk lasted for 45 minutes and each individual seamlessly passed the baton to the next speaker. They clearly are learning how to work as a team and yet express their own point of view. This ability to be collegial and individualistic is as important a lesson to learn as are all the facts and processes about mammals--perhaps precisely because we are large brained mammals ourselves.

mt kenya group
Mt. Kenya Group
New Dorms in Kenya
Now they are packing and relaxing as we prepare to go on safari. In a few hours we will head to the Ol Pejeta Conservancy where the wildlife are habituated. This will help us on our next set of projects where we will concentrate on studying the behavior of mammals of different sizes and exhibiting different mating and social systems. We will be examining how sexual differences take shape in different societies and we will examine how various species adjust their behavior to different risks of predation. To do this we will compare time budgets near and away from cover and in two parts of the conservancy--one where lion densities are extraordinarily high and one where they are equivalent to the background levels we see throughout the region. To examine how lion predation is affecting the demographic structure and thus stability of the populations themselves we will drive around recording the age and sex of all zebras we see and compare ratios of juveniles to adults in both areas to see how well each sub-population is replacing its aging adults with up and coming subadults. During this week I'll see if I can arrange for the students to write an email at least once so they can fill you in on what they are experiencing.

Next Saturday we will leave Ol Pejeta and head to Amboselli for a week where professor Altmann--an expert on baboon behavior--will join us and where we will learn about some of the most social mammals-- primates and elephants--on the planet. While at Amboseli there is little electricity and no email connection. So unfortunately, between the 12th and the 19th of March you will probably not be in contact with your sons and daughters.

Well, that is about it. I just wanted to update you and send you 3 pictures of them working on their projects. They are a terrific bunch of kids and they are willing to put in the effort--which has been considerable--to master a whole new way of thinking and 'doing' on a new group of animals. I am enjoying working with them and they seem to be doing so as well.

All my best,

Dan Rubenstein
EEB professor and chair
Instructor of EEB 404 in Kenya
Department Website:

greg and jen
Greg and Jen
nick and lauren and mark
Nick and Lauren and Mark
paul and kristin and melissa
Paul and Kristin and Melissa

Go to the next page..... Professor Dan Rubenstein's Email from March 19, 2006

Return to opening page Greg's Semester in Kenya

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