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

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: 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.