Greg Schundler's Semester in Kenya
February 13, 2006

Class has picked up and our days are full. Wake up at 7, game drive until 10, lecture at 11, lunch at 1, and then afternoons filled with field work or another lecture. We usually get back to camp at around 8 and are too beat to stay up past 10.

We’re studying savannas and the elements that regulate them. Mpala is an interesting focal point for such research because it is an unprotected wildlife area with many nomadic cattle ranchers on the periphery. Quantifying ecological changes like grass, tree, or animal density is difficult and ecology field work can be insultingly asinine; so far we have learned to identify and count dung piles, count trees, estimating their height and cover with a meter stick, and have recorded the height of blades of grass.

Greg and<ark
In a river basin---
practically a tropical oasis during this dry season with my buddy Mark

A lot of the papers we are reading are thought to be groundbreaking in the field and have proven such correlations as increased rainfall causes increased herbivore biodensity. Some of these studies have occupied hundreds of people, for decades with thousands of dollars of funding to only prove the obvious. More interesting are the economic, demographic, and political forces at hand. Kenya’s population continues to grow rapidly and people are slow to abandon old notions and their pastoral life style. The result is an increasing number of cattle and demand for graze lands.

With a government that could at any time vote to dissolve protected lands, Mpala as an organization, has concluded that the only future for African savannas is not in protectionism by foreigners, but rather exists in the hands of the Kenyan people. Wildlife and biodiversity must be viewed as an economic resource by the common man and he must be able to benefit from it. Ecotourism and safari companies have already been a source of economic growth in the region, however this growth has benefited only a limited number of locals and an even more limited number of wealthy (foreign or domestic) investors. Mega-ranches owned by wealthy individuals in the area have done a better job of preventing overgrazing and maintaining wild herbivore diversity by closely managing their herds.

One of our game drives was conducted in such an area: El Karama is known in the area as the “Little Serengeti”. Adjacent to Mpala’s property are also large tracts of land owned by foreign capitalists, one by a French billionaire and one by the German executive director of Puma. Both are interested in conversation, especially the very costly hobby of Rhino conservation (requiring around the clock protection from poachers by hired paramilitary). This interesting mosaic of properties is called the “Ewaso Ecosytem” and is bigger than both Kruger NP in South Africa and Serengeti NP in Tanzania. Conservation projects in the absences of protected areas (Mpala is not a national park) have proven successful; in fact Nairobi NP has sought to replenish its Zebra numbers by importing them from Mpala.

electric fences
An electric herbivore exclusion fence.
The strick temporarily shuts off the current by crossing the wires
so that we can pass through to collect data
Today we presented our projects on our field work and the futility of our field work has, upon analysis, shown some interesting results. Our test is tomorrow at 4 and everyone is half falling asleep in the research center studying. We are a little annoyed that the grade deflation policy will be applied to this group of 8. Now that only 20% of students in a given course at Princeton can receive A’s, only 2 of us will get them. Hopefully the semester does not turn into a season of Survivor.

Brad asked about the food….Lots of fresh fruit (mangos, papaya, and passion fruit at breakfast) and vegetables, seasoned meats, potatoes, and Indian flat bread. Kenyan cuisine has a lot of influences from the Middle East and India, areas of the world that have strong ties to Kenya’s coast. All of our food is prepared by our campsite staff.

Go to the next page..... Greg in Kenya February 20, 2006

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