Kenya: Trail blazed

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

Group 1 left on Friday with Roland driving a small contigent to Mulot, others making their way to the Maasai Mara for safari and still others choosing to fly from the local airstrip. The first leg of this expedition has passed in the blink of an eye and group 1 have left big boots to fill for the upcoming groups.

Below are some headline data that outline the hours of hard work put in by our first group:

  • Over 10,000 total animals recorded. 164 raptors and endangered birds recorded in 79 sightings including 28 grey crowned cranes in one sighting.
  • 9572 mammals recorded on 14 vehicle transects with a total distance of 260km.
  • 9 foot patrols completed recording scat including samples of aardvark and jackal scat plus footprints of elephants and hippos were photographed close to human settlement.
  • Two 14-hour waterhole observations with hyaenas, civet and lots of zebras, buffaloes and giraffes.
  • 308 iconic species recorded whilst not on transect (lions, leopards and elephants among others).
  • 6 hotspot cameras placed in locations with good chances of recording charismatic species.
  • Countless hours spent by Roland hunched over a laptop like a mad scientist, tweaking and perfecting the Cybertracker app and ironing out the quirks found on individual phones so that we can collate these data.

Group 2 – we look forward to meeting you and get stuck into the science all over again. We are set up to welcome you and the sunsets promise to put on a display. See you tomorrow.

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Kenya: Educational day

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

Wednesday saw the first local school education day of the Kenya 2023 expedition. We spent Tuesday afternoon planning the day and group 1 had some great ideas with activities planned to engage the students including discussions around human-wildlife conflict and poaching, hands-on demonstrations of scientific equipment and the processes we use to collect data.

The students were split into four groups named the Lions, Hippos, Elephants and Crocodiles. These names were chosen specifically as they are among the most prominent in terms of human-wildlife conflict. The morning was spent visiting the school in Emarti and meeting the excited students and teachers before heading into the conservancy for a game drive. This experience was eye-opening for us, as the vast majority of the students had not encountered the animals that live right on their doorstep. When we sighted a herd elephants, it was an emotional moment for the students and citizen scientists alike, many united in spotting their first elephants in the wild.

After lunch, the citizen scientists took the opportunity to explain the reasons drew them to visit Kenya and the Maasai Mara and offered insights into their home countries – many with stories of historic poor conservation and loss of wilderness. The students were especially interested in hearing about our lives back at home and everyone was happy to share photos and stories! After lunch (with the chefs continually trying to keep the buffet table topped up!) there were discussions around the relationships between humans and wildlife and the students offered their perceptions on the animals the four groups were named after. This was particularly insightful and provoked lively discussions between the students, citizen scientists and teachers. The citizen scientists were able to share their joy and enthusiasm for the sheer magnitude of biodiversity within Kenya with the students and teachers balancing the discussion with local concerns and conflicts.

Before the last activity there was a short talk and activity from Jane with everyone planting a tree and then onto the last activity – a gadget-filled hunt for camera traps placed nearby. After a short training session on compasses, GPS units and rangefinders, the students were given the clues to locate the camera traps. This activity was a hit and the students were enthralled and engaged throughout. Sadly for everyone this was the end of the day and time to return to Emarti school with full hearts and big smiles.

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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.

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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.

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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

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