Kenya: Elephants and lergy

Update from our Africa volunteer project working on the Big Five and biodiversity in the Maasai Mara of Kenya

As the team emerged from the adventures of their day off on Saturday with tales of lions feeding on zebras, close encounters with white rhino and sunsets over hippo-laden watering holes, Covid has reared its ugly head once again. We currently have two people isolating, the rest of the team have adjusted and adapted where necessary. For the most part it is business as usual. The staff at base are doing a great job of keeping everyone fed and assisting the expedition team.

Outside of the camp, we have continued with our prolific collection of scientific data. We have had teams completing foot transects in Mbokishi and Ol Chorro, vehicle transects in Enonkishu and camera traps placed in areas of interest (known as hotspots). We have placed a camera trap in an area said to be frequented by leopards and we are hoping to catch a glimpse into the life of these secretive creatures. With any luck we will have some photographs to share with you soon. We have also assisted our local rangers with the servicing of the permanent camera trap grids within the conservancies.

Sightings of special interest have continued to come in with our first elephants spotted during a transect, alongside reports of leopards, lions, civet cats, hyaenas, waterbuck, giraffes, zebras and a plethora of birds and ungulates.

So our expedition does, what an expedition does. Pursuing a purpose and coping with lost bags, delayed flights, broken down vehicles and now Covid as part of the adventure and expedition life.

Continue reading “Kenya: Elephants and lergy”

Kenya: Groove

Update from our Africa volunteer project working on the Big Five and biodiversity in the Maasai Mara of Kenya

We’re in the groove – more or less. Vehicle transects have been driven, foot transects walked, rangers introduced to our Cybertracker data recording app, with some taking to it like ducks to water and others less so. We have also checked camera traps (results later), where we could find them, been on night drives (for fun and a bit of data recording) and started waterhole observations, which presented their very own set of challenges (see below) 😉

We’ve recorded lions, hyaenas, civets, giraffe, topi, dik-dik, duiker, zebra, buffalo, impala, waterbuck, eland and much more. Cheetahs have been seen in the study site, but not yet caught during the surveys. The elephants are making themselves scarce and are elsewhere in the Mara. The leopards are elusive, as they tend to be.

The first star of the expedition has been awarded for Germanification of the daily activities grid.

Roland has put in a heroic effort to get the Cybertracker data transfer working reliably. The team continues to work hard and diligently, so the data are flooding in, putting a smile on Rebekah’s face.

Beaming too is the sun over the Mara. Our 06:00 breakfasts are chilly with lots of jacket and hat-clad people going about their business with quiet confidence now, packing up equipment and getting ready to head out. As the sun crests over the Mara, engines fire up and people leave to their destinations, be it a waterhole, a ranger pick-up point or a transect. A couple of hours into our survey work, the jackets come off and the suncream comes on for us muzungus. By lunchtime the sun is high and hot and, the siesta until 15:00 appreciated, ready for another round of activities in the afternoon. This is an expedition after all, not a bloody holiday!

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Kenya: Trailblazers

Update from our Africa volunteer project working on the Big Five and biodiversity in the Maasai Mara of Kenya

Team 1 has arrived. Trailblazers we called them and trailblazers they are. Missing baggage, northern accents, naughty dogs, long hours or data-collection apps on mobiles don’t faze them.

Two days, some Teutonic organisation, plenty of laminating sheets (great thing we have so many) is all it took to get them up to speed and convert them into citizen scientists and 4×4 fiends.

So on day three, as the sun shines and the Mara bursts with life, they are already out on their second vehicle transect – spotting, recording, off-roading and beavering away in a very sciency way.

Now all we need is for inseparable K&J to be less smelly, J&D to sing, R&E to restart their phones, B&Y to train the rangers, R&R to relax, J to take over, G to order the driver to continue, S to continue chauffeuring and N to find some Wellingtons, and we’ll be in expedition heaven.

But, no really, well done team 1 so far! You are creating big boots to fill.

First three days
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Kenya: Groove, sort of

Update from our Africa volunteer project working on the Big Five and biodiversity in the Maasai Mara of Kenya

Baggage: arrived. Roland: arrived. Cars: fixed, sort of. Preparations: finished. Team: missing. That’s our status here in Enonkishu.

There’s been lots of changes over the last three years, so group 1, you will be our trailblazers. Bear with us, work with us and get us in the groove. Remember it’s a team effort and we’re here to lead, not to serve or nanny you. So, I hope you have:

  • a copy of the field manual ready for your own use (essential for your work)
  • downloaded the Cybertracker app (essential for your work)
  • downloaded the Earth app (new, essential for your work, see below)
  • downloaded the BirdLasser app (not essential, only if you are really into your birds)
  • downloaded the iNaturalist app (not essential, only if you are really into your natural history)

We’ve decided to use Earth for on-site navigation, so please download the app. If you’re into things like that, you can also import into Earth three files and have a play. We will send you these files and also some others so that you know what’s coming 😉 If you are not into this, then don’t worry, we will explain everything on site and get you set up once you are here.

Roland and I will be driving to Nairobi in a minute. See you there at 08:00 tomorrow, group 1.

Continue reading “Kenya: Groove, sort of”

Kenya: Stutter start

Update from our Africa volunteer project working on the Big Five and biodiversity in the Maasai Mara of Kenya

Matthias and I are off to a stutter start of our Kenya biodiversity volunteer expedition.

First, our baggage (with important expedition equipment) did not make it to Nairobi. So far Kenyan Airways have proved incompetent in even locating it. Then our first hire 4×4 broke down after 5 km and we had to leave it with the mechanics. The second just made it to Enonkishu before the clutch gave in. Thank you very much Market Car Hire! And on the way, we were harassed by a greedy and self-important policeman.

But we got there in the end and it is good to be back. Lots of changes. More wildlife, more people, more rain. Lots of work to do. New (very good) cook!

Rebekah, our local scientist, has been busy devising our surveys, now in three conservancies rather than one (see photos, all to be explained during training when you get here). We in turn have busied ourselves with paperwork and setup. Replacement cars are here and we hope this will be breakdowns and police harassment out of the way for the expedition, but don’t hold your breath.

The Mara is as beautiful and welcoming as ever. It’s a bit chilly in the morning (jacket or long sleeves required), but gets hot by mid-day, cooling off in the evening. As I type this, rain is gently pattering on the tin roof and vervet monkeys are playing in the trees nearby, sounding like elephants when they venture on the wet tin roof. Tonight the hippos will be grunting us to sleep as they always do. Sweet dreams and safe travels group 1. See you on Sunday. One more diary before then, perhaps.

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Kenya: Let’s go

Update from our Africa volunteer project working on the Big Five and biodiversity in the Maasai Mara of Kenya

Welcome to the Kenya 2023 diary. I am Johnny Adams, your expedition leader.

We look forward to returning to Kenya and Enonkishu Conservancy after a pandemic-enforced absence of two years. In fact, our Kenya expedition in February 2020 was the last expedition that ran before the pandemic hit us all. So now we are full circle and keen to go again.

I will be flying to Nairobi on Sunday to set up for you. With me will be our founder and executive director Dr. Matthias Hammer, who will be there for setup and probably part of group 1. Helping us in Kenya will be Rebekah Karimi, erstwhile conservation manager of Enonkishu Conservancy and our first local scientist when we started this expedition back in 2019, as well as Roland Arniston, who will act as expedition scientist this year, alongside Rebekah.

I’ll be in touch again from the ground in Kenya next week, but first here are some tasks for you citizen scientist in preparation for the expedition:

  1. Please download the expedition field guide & manual 2023 and make sure you bring a copy with you on the expedition (hardcopy or softcopy on a tablet are fine). The more you can study and swot up on this now, the easier you will find the training on the ground, so please invest some time now, if you can.
  2. We will be using Cybertracker for much of the data recording. Please can you download this to your mobile phone and familiarise yourself with the app. The app works best when connected to the internet, so either please buy a Safaricom SIM card on arrival (this provider works best in the study site) or make sure you have a roaming agreement for Kenya with your provider at home. You can easily pick up Safaricom SIM cards at the airport, just after exiting arrivals.

Otherwise, I hope your preparations are going well. You’ll hear from me again in a week or so.

And finally, here are some photos and videos of the last expedition in 2020 to get you in the spirit of things.

Best wishes

Johnny Adams
Expedition leader

Continue reading “Kenya: Let’s go”

Thailand: Elephants all over the study site

The weather is hot during the day now. We like the sun, but we are sweating for science also. In the early mornings we walk by the local families huddled around their fireplaces. For most of us a long sleeve shirt is plenty.

We spent Friday & Saturday surveying in the afternoon, when all elephants have been very active. The two females and the toddler stuck together most of the time as usual and were followed by quite a few of us watching their every movement and recording activities and social behaviour every five minutes. Every elephant has their personal data logger and two more citizen scientists record association data of the herd. Until Saturday the males stayed away, roaming on their own but still followed by us citizen scientists.

We’ve been walking a lot up and down hills, along the main path, to the river, back into dense undergrowth, etc., etc.. With elephant toddler Gen Thong around it never gets boring, anyway. He likes testing the boundaries and is always up for game.

On Saturday & Sunday we found Boon Rott and Dodo together for the first time since we started our surveys. It was great to see them getting along well, Dodo following Boon Rott. He is the newest member of the herd and in the process of slowly settling in. It will take some more time for him to get his bearings and there is a lot to learn from his mate about his new environment. We saw them mud-bathing together and displaying social behaviour – they must like each other.

Apart from surveying elephants, some of the team took the chance to participate in community activities in the afternoon of our early survey days on Thursday and Sunday. Kunsang learnt some traditional weaving skills and her scarf should be finished by the time we leave. Others went for a Thai massage to the lower village to experience a blind man’s magic hands. He is said to be unique in what he is doing – I can certainly attest to this.

We have one survey day left tomorrow (Monday). Keep your fingers crossed that all five elephants will decide to spend some time in one group. That’s our hope at least, but they have their own minds 😉

Thailand: Collecting data

The team has completed the second elephant survey day. Introductions, presentations and lectures on the science, the history of the elephants to be surveyed, the equipment, safety and living with the local people were followed by a half day of practical training in the field on Tuesday. Data collection started on Wednesday and will continue until Monday, working towards the goal of completing two full sets of survey hours between 08:00 and 16:00. That means that the schedule will change from day to day, some days starting at 06:00 others at 08:00.

We left base at 08:00 on Wednesday for the 4.5 km hike to find the elephants. Too-Meh, the herd’s grandmother (57 years), her daughter Mae-Doom (23 years) and Gentong, Too-Meh’s grandson (6 years) were  together near the river. They foraged most of the time and took a bath in the river later on. Right at lunchtime, one of the male elephants, Boon-Rott (13 years) joined them, so that almost the whole team was reunited for lunch. The third male elephant, Dodo (Gentong’s brother, 13 years) decided to roam around solitary. A team of two citizen scientists followed him up and down steep hills and even further away from where the rest of the herd enjoyed each other’s company. It was a very good first survey day – easy for some, more challenging for others, though.

Today (Thursday) we went for the first out of two early shifts. Leaving base before sunrise, we very much enjoyed the 90 min walk along the river watching the sun come up and slowly dissolving the mist. For the first time during this week the sky was clear blue and the sun pushed the temperature up and over thirty degrees. Keep your fingers crossed that we won’t get any more rain!

We celebrated Neil’s birthday on Wednesday evening. Talia prepared a delicious homemade cake, which was presented after dinner. Thank you, Talia, for doing so, and thank you, Neil, for sharing it with us!

Thailand: Training

Everyone arrived safely at base today. Our team of ten citizen scientists from Brazil, Germany, the UK and US moved into their homes after lunch. Today was full-on introduction and training, stuffed with information before we go out tomorrow (Tuesday) morning for a practical data collection training walk.

Thailand: Ready to roll

I arrived at our base camp village of Ban Naklang on Saturday. Kerri, the founder of our partner organisation, and I had a meal at one of the homestay houses and continued to work on preparations, finalising the day-to-day schedule. Sunny weather was interrupted by heavy rain showers on Saturday and Sunday, but the weather forecast in predicting improving wheather conditions.

You will be picked up by Talia, our expedition scientist, tomorrow morning (Monday) at 8:00 at the Imperial Mae Ping Hotel, and Kerri and I look forward to meeting you at base.

I leave you with a few impressions from base and our jungle office, now all ready for your arrival…

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