Samburu Communities and Wildlife: Saving Kenya’s Endangered Zebras
Team 9z, 9–21 August, 2008
By Marion Achieng’ Otieno
BSc. Environmental Science (Planning and Management)
I am Marion Achieng’ Otieno, aged 24yrs. Currently, I am an intern at the National Museums of Kenya, working in the mammalogy department. Joining the Samburu Communities and Wildlife expedition was a fantastic opportunity to develop my interest in conservation issues as well as my career. I joined the project very much eager to participate in the type of research in which I have always been interested, and I am happy to say that that I got no less than my expectation. I received a lot of training from the staff on research studies, and gained new knowledge as an environmental scientist.
Previously, I have worked at Amboseli National Park and with the National Environment Management Authority in Kenya, but I am obliged to confess that the Earthwatch experience was outstanding. Thanks to Earthwatch for a memorable expedition experience and to Landover for sponsoring me to participate in the expedition. I am so grateful, and I look forward to working more with the Earthwatch Institute.
Thanks to my nominator, Mr. Bernard Agwanda, (National Museums of Kenya), and to the Earthwatch Scientist, Dr. Nicholas Oguge from Earthwatch Kenya, for allowing me to participate in the project
The team consisted of eleven African volunteers: three Kenyans; two Cameroonians; one Ghanaian; one Malawian; one Zambian; one Ethiopian; one Ugandan; and one Tanzanian. It was a lovely group, with a great combination of volunteers; focused and eager to learn. By the end of our expedition, we had all accomplished or exceeded our expectations.
The Research Project
The Samburu initiative has several projects running in the same place, but with different objectives, including Carnivores in Conflict, Medicinal Plants and Saving Kenya’s Endangered Zebras.
The study area
Before and a few years after independence, the area north of the equator in Kenya was known as the Northern Frontier District (NFD). Samburu district was once a large part of the NFD. Only government officials were allowed to enter and it was closed to foreigners. A special permit issued by the administration was required in order to enter the NFD. Even today Samburu land is still a remote area, found in the Northern part of Kenya, and its landscape is one of great diversity and beauty.
The area is wetter on the Southern side and drier on the Northern side, with a high wildlife diversity and biomass. Many threatened species live there, including over 70 per cent of the world’s wild population of Grevy’s zebras (Equus grevyi). Threats to these endangered mammals include the growing human population, settlement patterns and associated livestock, soil erosion, poor vegetation cover and invasive species. The other big issue in Samburu is the lack of clean drinking water. Samburu women walk up to twelve miles every day looking for water and often return home to their children with nothing. This also has great implications for the vast numbers of wildlife in the area.
The Samburu people are a pastoral nomadic tribal community of over 150,000 people living in the arid, remote area, roughly 8000 square miles (21,000 km²). They herd mainly sheep, goats and camels.
Experience in the field
The project focused on the Grevy’s zebra in pastoral land. The study area covered Wamba, Namnyak, Barsalinga, Ngutuk, Buffalo Springs and the Samburu national reserve areas. Local stakeholders, including communities, researchers and conservation groups, were involved in most of the activities.
Volunteers engaged in daily activities in various areas, with the guidance of the Earthwatch scientists Dr. Paul Muoria and Geoffrey Lelenguyia, both of the African Wildlife Foundation (AWF).
Each of the following activities was carried out on specific days, and by various groups, until all the areas had been covered appropriately.
- Census of the Grevy’s zebra
This was done in order to estimate the density of the Grevy’s zebra. Attempted total count as well as the line transects sampling techniques were used in the field. The second day my group managed to see over one hundred individuals, and this was just awesome! We did line transects of eight kilometres long in all the areas in groups of two.
This was done by every group in relation to the foals and mares.
We also carried out a vegetation study and analysis for the Grevy’s zebra. All volunteers succeeded in undertaking these activities, and combined with the fun we had in the wildlife-rich land of Samburu, this resulted in a feeling of great satisfaction for all.
The evening activities comprised data entry, and presentations from all the team members. This was to enable everyone to learn and gain from each other, and this provided plenty of insight into the project.
We were able to acquire professional research skills including planning for research activities, methods of data collection, entry, and analysis. The local communities are also involved in the conservation work, and they contribute a great deal. We worked with several scouts and guides, who ensure the safety of these wild treasures, as well as security of the scientists, staff and volunteers.
It is amazing and encouraging to note that the Grevy’s zebra population in Samburu is increasing, as is the population of other wildlife in the area, due to the conservation strategies that have been put in place. The local people are beginning to realize the benefits of conserving their wildlife, and this is raising their interest in conservation.
Our schedule included a full day for recreation, and we had a wonderful plan for this day: enjoying lunch by the Ewaso-Nyiro River, watching elephants drinking from and crossing through it!
Samburu was a great place to be. The research was very useful to the team and it was an opportunity to gain valuable experience and knowledge. As an environmental scientist, the project changed my entire perception of looking at our natural resources, especially in light of rapid population growth and industrialization. Our natural resources face many threats and conservation is the only way to help.
Conserve our environment, our life, our heritage. Protect our future!
For more information about Earthwatch’s Capacity Development programme in Samburu, see our case study of the 2007 teams.
The team was funded by Landrover, Rio Tinto, Mitsubishi Corporation and British American Tobacco