Kenya: Data to send Rebekah over the moon

Apologies for the delay, but I was busy packing up and getting back to Europe.

Team 2 left Enonkishu last Friday morning. A month of expedition and data collection at Enonkishu conservancy is over. After this year’s final vehicle transects on Thursday morning and data input, Rebekah presented a summary of our work effort.

Group 2 completed 14 vehicle and 6 walking transects, 3 point count observations from Kileleoni hill and 20 four hour shifts of waterhole observation. During the vehicle transects, 619 observations were recorded in 43.5 hours on the activity (218 person hours) and a total number of 4,541 animals from 28 different species were counted. 23.5 hours were spent on the walking transects (141 person hours), where 59 observations were recorded and 293 animals from 21 species were counted. In 3 hours (18 person hours) of point count observations, a total number of 99 animals of 9 species in 20 observations was recorded. The team spent 78 hours observing the Memusi dam waterhole (179 person hours), counting 413 animals of 11 species over 246  observations.

I know, the above long list of numbers may be difficult to digest, especially for those who haven’t been involved in the activities on the ground. But the overall results speak for themselves: During four expedition weeks 1,682 observations were recorded, each a line completed on a datasheet and transferred into the computer. The teams spent 265 hours on activities making it a field effort of 940.5 hours by person – excluding preparation & travel time. A total number of 9.663 animals were counted.

In addion team 1 set up ten camera traps in different locations throughout Enonskishu and the SD cards were then changed every week. Expeditioners spent many hours sorting a total number of 8,829 photos/videos and picking out predators and nocturnal species such as lion, leopard, hippo, etc.

All in all our efforts look like this:

Also, the inventory species list we started on expedition day one has grown almost every single day including rare sightings such as aardvark, caracal, green mamba, leopard, honey badger and nile crocodile. 106 different bird species were spotted and identified – thank you Rebecca and Peter!

But enough of numbers & figures for now. Rebekah is over the moon with having a huge set of data to analyse and work with. And you will all be informed once the expedition report is published. Speaking for myself, I am still overwhelmed by the beauty and richness of the Mara and Enonkishu conservancy. Thank you to everyone involved in making this project a success. Thank you Albanus for making us feel welcome and comfortable at Mara Training Centre, Musa for sharing your knowledge and working with us, Joseph & Bernard for feeding us well. A special thanks goes to the Enonkishu rangers for keeping us safe and sharing their knowledge. And last but not least, thank you so much teams 1 & 2 for everything you have put into the project and coping with long days, night shifts, pouring rain, flat tyres and watching videos of moving grass for hours. Without you this project would not have happened. I hope you all take some good memories of Africa back home and I hope to see some of you again some day.

You may already have seen Chris Taylor’s blog and stunning photography, as well as Valery Collins’ blog. There’s also a flurry of posts on Rose Palmer’s website and Instagram.

Our “own” photos, courtesy of many of you (thank you), are below. Do not forget to share the rest of yours via the Pictureshare site please!

Best wishes,

Malika

Kenya: Shifts, students and rhinos

We finished the 72 h waterhole observation on Tuesday noon. Thank you, team 2, for completing this far from easy task by filling all morning, afternoon and night shifts, coping with rain, driving at night and slippery roads, as well as unrecognisable sounds during night time. Rebekah & I were pleased to have the team together again after three days of teams going in and out in pairs every four hours while others went for the morning & afternoon wildlife survey activities. During the review on Tuesday afternoon we shared our experiences. Some of the team enjoyed sitting quietly in the hide thoroughly, some found it was an enjoyable and a very special experience – especially the night shifts are something to remember.  Others were rewarded with rare leopard sightings, which is what everyone had hoped for, but couldn’t be expected. Others got “lost” on the way and were late for changing shifts or sat out a thunderstorm and heavy rain in the car while continuing the survey count every 15 minutes.

On the Environmental Educational Day on Wednesday, the team welcomed and hosted another group of 19 students from Emarti secondary school. After a tour through the boarding school’s facilities everyone went out in cars for a game drive within Enonkishu Conservancy. Soon a radio call reached the teams that two white rhinos had walked from neighbouring Ol Chorro Conservancy into Enonkishu territory, followed by their guarding rangers. For both the students and expeditioners seeing the rhinos was the highlight during the game drive. The afternoon at Mara Training centre included three “stations” run by team members: Chris flying & explaining a drone outside, Carrie & Rebecca explaining camera traps & showing videos/pictures at the classroom and placement Leonard answering questions from a local point of view in the cow shed. Former teacher Ellen did a great job with dividing the students into smaller groups and initiating the group rotations by imitating hyaena calls. We finished up with taking a drone picture of everyone lying in a circle on the grass to memorise this very special day.

Kenya: Leopard and other encounters

Data collection is in full swing with the teams driving vehicle transects or walking survey patrols together with the rangers starting from Bingham or Chali Chali camp. One team went up Kileleoni hill again. The tracks & scat archive now includes quite a few samples, the species inventory list is getting longer and longer, and the the bird list is growing daily too. We’re also in the process of looking through SD cards, but so far nothing really exciting, yet. Two cars went out for a full moon night drive on Tuesday – a very special experience. We found hippo grazing, buffalo snoozing, elephants foraging, herds of zebra, impala, eland and Thomsons’s gazelle. The number of hyaenas spotted was just overwhelming. Near one of the dens we watched about ten of them and their cubs for a while.

On Monday noon we started our second continuous 72 hour waterhole observation stint. Divided in eighteen shifts of four hours, two of us scan the surroundings every 15 minutes from the hide that was built by the rangers for this project before the expedition started. We’ve created a ‘waterhole box’ that contains the essential equipment, including a few Shukas, the traditional Maasai cloth to help everyone stay warm and comfortable, especially during the very early morning hours. Leonard, a local Maasai placement on this group, showed us some variations of wearing it.

Earlier in the week, Carrie, Chris and Musa had a lucky sighting while sitting out a downpour in the car. Guess what… a leopard! The next brief sighting was only a few hours later, but the best sighting happened during the dead of night shift between midnight and 04:00 when Peter and Ellen watched the animal for about 15 minutes, before he disappeared into the bushes. And suddenly – surprise, surprise – all citizens become very keen scientists to be assigned the erstwhile unpopular dead of night shift 😉

It has been raining quite a bit over the last couple of days and the temperature has dropped significantly. Keep your fingers crossed that the change won’t be long and we see the sun again soon!

Kenya: Elephant encounters

Group 2’s time so far has been spent with moving in, introductions, as well as safety, science, vehicle and equipment training. Then finally on Monday in the late afternoon, everyone went out for the first drive. And what a drive it was. The driver training group (3 cars) found elephants blocking the route. We watched them carefully from the cars for a while and finally backed up to go another way. One of the bigger males clearly indicated that we weren’t welcome to pass the herd, showcasing exactly the kind behaviour described our safety training – as if we had organised a first class safety with wild animals training session.

Tuesday morning we covered all three vehicle transect routes and then three teams exchanged SD cards on the nine remaining camera traps. Looking  through them will take up some time, so watch this space….

Kenya: 4274 animals and learning from each other

Group 1 left on Friday and group 2 is about to arrive in a few hours.

We had a wonderful last evening with group 1 on Thursday, watching the International Space Station (ISS) crossing the night sky – a moving star high above us. Eric took a great picture he promised to share with everyone. Some of us went out for the group’s very last night drive and were rewarded with elephant sightings.

Earlier in the week, our survey days were spent with more foot & vehicle transect work and observations from Kileleoni hill, the highest point in the Mara. The remaining camera traps were ‘serviced’ (batteries and SD cards exchanged).

One highlight during the last few days of grop 1 was the Environmental Educational Day on Wednesday. It was great fun organising, meeting, hosting and training nineteen students from the secondary school of Emarti, a village in the neighbourhood. The programme, developed by the team during a planning session the day before, included a game drive in the morning, lunch at MTC, as well as an introduction to Enonkishu conservancy by Rebekah, head ranger Dapash and ranger Albert. You would guess that everyone within the local community knows what Enonkishu is and what the rangers do, but this is far from true. Expeditioner Julia explained the classroom set-up, our work and equipment before Susanne showed some of the best camera trap pictures and videos. Jan and Maria then introduced the students to their learning task. We were all touched by their interest and enthusiasm and I guess the students will remember our efforts at being teachers for a while to come. All in all it was a very rewarding day and a learning experience for all of us.

During our final review meeting on Thursday afternoon, Rebekah provided a summary of the work and the data that have been collected so far. The numbers are impressive:

  • overall the teams spend 115 hours in the field, or expressed differently, 377 person hours of wildlife surveys
  • 679 observations were recorded in the datasheets and into the computer
  • 4274 animals were recorded during the transect work and observation point counts
  • 10 camera traps – minus the one that was destroyed by hyaenas – produced hundreds of pictures and videos, some of which show more elusive nocturnal wildlife (leopard, hyaena, bat-eared fox, etc.) and provide proof of their presence in the conservancy

A full summary of metrics collated by Rebekah is this:

Thank you goup 1! You did a great job out there in the field. Thanks for being the trailblazers on this inaugural expedition to the beautiful Mara ecosystem. We learnt a lot from your feedback and experience during the last couple of weeks, which will help us prepare & streamline the tasks for the next teams to come. Scientist Rebekah is still in heaven; the amount of data you have  collected her path to cloud 9.  The rangers say a big thank you to all of you for your generous donations of time, equipment and enthusiasm. And last but not least, I would like to thank you again for your commitment, patience and hard work and for rising to the challenge.

Safe travels back home or onwards. I hope we meet again. And welcome group 2. We’re ready and waiting.

Kenya: Animal antics

We have now completed the 72 h waterhole observation in eighteen 4-hour shifts – well done everyone! It’s been a challenge and an adventure, but most importantly the team completed the first-ever 3 day continuous observation within Enonkishu conservancy. We are looking forward to repeating the feat with group 2!

Apart from that, small teams went out for day & night vehicle or foot wildlife surveys, walked up to the Kileoni hill observation point and checked the camera traps. Rare sightings during the surveys were leopard and caracal both during day and night.

It took a few days to look through the results of the camera traps. On one SD card we found 800 10s videos (of mostly grassland, but someone’s got to watch it!). Some non-grassland results are in the video below.

There had been reports of a lioness with cubs and now we have proof. One of the cameras was destroyed by hyaenas, others showed baboons and elephants having a go.

 

Kenya: Sorry for the silence

It’s six days since the start of the expedition and you have not heard from us. Sorry. Two reasons: firstly, the bush internet is not broadband and secondly, we been dealt quite a handful on this trailblazing group (read on).

We got off well enough from Nairobi on Sunday on Kenyan time and made it to base in good time. With introductions, a tour of the site and risk/safety briefings done, it was already time to sample Joseph’s (the chef’s) skills for dinner and then people drifted off to to their tents and bandas, tired from the long day.

Monday was a full day of training. We met the rangers, learnt about the data collection methods, datasheets, various pieces of equipment and how to use them and were introduced on how to do basic car maintenance, including changing a tyre. We then split into two groups – drivers on a driving course, non-drivers on a game drive. All under a beautifully broody Africa sky with a remarkable full rainbow. The drivers learnt various offroad driving skills, including that there is more car behind your ears, than in front of your ears (or not, Jan).

Tuesday it started falling to pieces. Our suspision is that someone from a very clean country brought in a very dirty gastro bug that over the course of the next four days knocked out half the team. But we hold no grudge and suffered through it bravely. Heroic expedition leader Malika stood firm throughout, man baby executive director Matthias wimpered away in his bed. Others were variously affected and out of action, but we still managed to set the camera traps as planned, conducted vehicle and walking transects, waterhole observations, a hill climb, started the tracks and scats library and collected so much data with half a group that, in between dashing to the toilet, you could see the delight in the eyes of scientists Rebekah who said “she was in heaven”. So not a bad start, even under the challenging circumstances.

Friday, was our day off and most opted to go on a game drive into the neighbouring conservancies, where they added a pride of twelve lions, to an already impressive list of sightings of all kinds of ungulate (including a zebra being born), other carnivores, birds, etc. from Enonkishu Conservancy, our study site.

Today we are back to the grind, hopefully with a full team. They are arriving for breakfast just now…

 

Kenya: Sunday start

It’s warm, the sun is shining, the equipment is ready, survey routes are set, datasheets printed, the animals are here, waiting to be counted, etc, etc. All we need now is you citizen scientists. See you at the Margarita on Sunday morning!

Kenya: Ready, set…

Preparations for your arrival are now in full swing. Lots of whiteboard lists to cross off, shopping to be done, staff arriving & getting ready, base being prepared, equipment made ready, datasheets copied, etc. Anyone still thinking they are coming on a touristy, cushy, relaxing safari?  😉

No more rain so far, with temperatures in the very comfortable 20s and a slight chill in the morning. Frogs singing us to sleep, green grass, African skies and wildlife, beautiful sunsets. Anything else?

We’re counting down the days, as we are sure you are. One week to go. We’ll be ready. Rebekah is panicking ;))

Kenya: Opener

Dear Kenya expeditioners

Welcome to the first diary entry of our inaugural Kenya expedition. Our expedition scientist Rebekah Karimi and her team of rangers are eager to meet you all and get going, as are we, your expedition leader Malika Fettak and our executive director Dr. Matthias Hammer.

Dr. Matthias Hammer (left) and Malika Fettak (right).

It’s taken us around two years of preparation to get to this juncture and it’s always great to see a project come together. Most of the documents are written (we hope you have downloaded and printed your manual & field guide), procedures set, equipment bought, etc. And soon we will be heading out to Kenya to put the finishing touches to the expedition, a week or so ahead of group 1. We will be in touch again from the ground with final details (weather, last minute adjustments, pictures, emergency number, etc.).

For now suffice it to say that the weather has been very atypical, as almost everywhere else we work on the planet. Rebekah tells us that “there has been some unseasonable rain recently, which makes driving conditions challenging, but also fun. There are rain showers most afternoons or evenings. The sunsets have been amazing with rainbows, green grass, and wildlife galore”.

With this in mind, we hope you are as excited as we are, and proud to be trailblazers. By now we are sure you have realised that you are not about to embark on a cushy safari holiday, but on a serious citizen science project. Everything will be new for everyone. Bear with us through the teething problems and help us build an expedition to protect the biodiversity of the beautiful Maasai Mara, one of the crown jewels of our beleaguered natural world, for many years to come.