Earthwatch resumed operations in Kenya on April 1st, but the recent interruption to the continuity of research due to the electoral dispute means that volunteer support is required now more than ever.
Earthwatch operates scientific field research projects in the Tsavo, Watamu, Nanyuki, the Kwali district and the Samburu-Laikipia region and has been active in Kenya for 26 years. The safety of volunteers is paramount so Earthwatch decided to temporarily suspend operations in the country during the first three months of the year. Although expeditions are now getting back on track, the support of Earthwatch volunteers is vital to the recovery of wildlife and communities in the project areas.
One of the projects which has been adversely affected is Earthwatch's research in the Taita/Rukinga Wildlife Conservancy, in the Tsavo region of Kenya. The project's base camp is Taita Ranch, a 96,000-acre tract of privately owned land nestled between the southern arms of Tsavo East and West. The project, which was established in 2002, is documenting the ecology and behaviour of Tsavo's maneless lions, with the aim of mitigating the conflicts between lions and humans. At present these conflicts are jeopardising both lions and people outside the national parks. Volunteers help zoologist Dr. Bruce Patterson from Chicago's Field Museum, Dr. Samuel Kasiki from Kenya Wildlife Service and Alexander Mwazo Gombe to follow radio-collared individuals on private lands next to the parks.
Dr. Patterson explains the importance of continuing with the project, "Our being there means the private ranch owners can derive a sustainable living off their property from ranch-use fees rather than leasing grazing rights to nomadic herders (who, lacking ties to the land, use it unsustainably). Most importantly, from the standpoint of our lions, herders and cows in the midst of our ranch means the chief agent that is endangering lions all over Africa is in the heart of our sanctuary - harassing lions, driving them from kills, poisoning carcasses, and the like. One of our lions was spotted with a snare in September - probably set for bushmeat, and the snare has almost certainly ended his life. Conflicts between people and cattle are inevitable without enlightened grazing strategies that recognise heightened seasonal risks (lions attack cattle mainly in the wet season, when native game is dispersed and hard to find)."
Dr. Patterson continues, "The lawlessness precipitated by the last election has meant no one (not even the ranch owners) has control of grazers, who simply invade lands with their herds. The severe impact of herdsmen on lions in Tsavo means that every day that goes by increases the odds that our lions will be killed or driven off. We've been following these lions since 2002, assembled detailed accounts of their lives in a wilderness sanctuary. Recent events have interrupted this account, and the bigger the gap, the harder it will be to put their life histories back together."
The camp employs dozens of people from the local community, as well as guides, cooks, and stewards from all parts of Kenya. Without the Eartwatch project, all of these people will be out of work, and their families impacted by the tourist slow-down - kids without school fees and business people in the service industry driven back into subsistence agriculture.
Dr. Patterson adds, "It's scary from a scientific standpoint too as our staff necessarily need to make ends meet, and if they accept other employment in the interim we will lose their training, consistency, and experience in data collection. The return of Earthwatch volunteers will bring employment to surrounding villages, sustainable profits to the ranch owners, and peace and prosperity again to the thousands of species of wildlife that make Tsavo their home."
Earthwatch is now recruiting volunteers for Lions of Tsavo
and volunteers are urgently needed for the first team, from June 30th to July 12th. Earthwatch made the decision to resume operations in Kenya upon confirming the news that the political situation had stabilised considerably in recent weeks. Negotiations led by former UN Secretary General Kofi Annan brought President Mwai Kibaki and Orange Democratic Movement Party leader Raila Odinga to the table, making significant progress toward establishing a coalition government, as well as a timeline for a new constitution and new elections.
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or for more information about expeditions call our friendly expedition recruitment team on +44 (0)1865 318831.
Volunteers are urgently needed for expeditions to Kenya to make sure that Earthwatch's many research projects in the country can remain on track.