Kathryn Arnold - African Savannah Conservation in Kenya
For my mother and me, it had always been a dream to go to Africa. Since I am the only girl in my family of five, my mother and I formed a close bond. We are both teachers, she teaches 6th grade science and I teach 1st grade/kindergarten. Being able to enjoy time together in the summer is a blessing. As we wanted to take a trip to Africa, I found the perfect placement in Projects Abroad. We are both passionate about education but also preserving our animals.
When we arrived in Nairobi we were greeted by Sam, the Projects Abroad representative. He made us feel incredibly welcome! We stayed the night in a guest house and headed for Kigio in the morning. On our way to Kigio, we stopped in Naivasha. Sam showed us where the banks were and gave us tips on how to be smart when asking where they were. We also decided to get some food - he took us to have barbequed goat. I am not a huge meat eater; however, I tried the goat. It was not much to my liking but my mother enjoyed it while I enjoyed the French fries.
Life in Kigio
Kigio is a breath-taking place that is surrounded by beautiful animals. Although it is mainly for giraffes, there are pumas, impala, water buffalo, hippos, zebras, waterbuck, gazelle, eland, and many different types of birds. Upon arrival we saw many different types of animals. I was quick to take my camera out and start snapping photos. Then I realized that we would be around them for the next couple of weeks!
We drove up the bumpy road to the house. This was a little different than the roads I was used to - we definitely had to hang on! When we drove up to the lodge area it was almost "tea time", my favorite time. We were greeted by the staff as well as some other volunteers. We settled in our room and had some tea. They had just done the mammal survey and since I am familiar with Microsoft Excel, I typed all of it for them. We enjoyed some tea and dinner, as well as a shower. Tea time was a refreshing, relaxing time before dinner which was usually at 7pm.
The next morning, after breakfast, we headed out for some invasive plant removal. There is one plant in particular that is from South America. It not only has over 700 seeds, but none of the animals eat it. This was not my favorite task but my mother loved pulling the weeds. The thing I did like about this however was that we could see the fruits of our labor immediately as we eradicated the plants. The plants were a bit difficult to pull up, but we were able to get a large area of invasive done during the morning time.
Every other day, a group would do the giraffe survey and check the camera traps. These were two of my favorite activities. There are 26 giraffes on the conservancy. We took a camera, a notebook listing pictures of each giraffe and their name and we drove out to see how many we could identify. It was a little difficult sometimes because the giraffes are usually in groups, so you have to take the pictures quickly and get a good side profile. After you get a good photo you are able to identify most of them.
Giraffes’ spots are like human fingerprints, they are all different. The best way to identify them is by the spots on their neck. It was also difficult at times to see which giraffes were male and female as a lot of the pictures did not capture their lower body. It was always exciting to see how many we could identify.
The camera traps are spread out along a 5km path. Anytime something moves in front of it, it snaps a photo. This was the only place we saw the leopard. Each camera had a SIM card that we would take out and put into the laptop. There were 7 traps and sometimes there were really great photos. There was one day that we moved the cameras, it was a long process but I learned how to set them. We would place one trap then mark down on the GPS our location. We then headed in east to place the next trap and repeated the process. On this particular day we were pretty far in the bush, it was the most difficult day as we walked a lot.
Some of the other tasks were watering the tree nursery (trees for a community project), taking samples of the biomass. The biomass survey was taking a metal frame that was around a foot by a foot and throwing it on a random piece of ground to would see how much was covered with grass, barren, as well as woody plants. We did this in three different areas and took four samples at each place. Later on we were able to check out the samples to see where the animals were eating.
The bird survey was another task. This was once a week and we would wake up at 6:30am and go out on a set path to take pictures of any and every bird we could find. This was also a difficult task. As soon as I was able to spot a bird, they would fly away and I couldn’t snap a great photo. However, we did see two types of the African Harrier Hawk. Being able to identify the birds was a great way to see how many different species of birds there actually are in Kigio. For bird lovers, this was an awesome activity!
Kigio has an electric fence surrounding the conservancy. The only way to check for poachers is to walk along the fence as see if there are any traces of poachers. This can be a bit boring as you are just walking, but we always had great conversation on this walk. There was only really one area that we saw signs of poachers. They put some rocks by the area where poachers tried to come in. Unfortunately at the farm on the other side of Kigio, almost all of pumas have been poached. We were told that they either do it for food or to sell as other meat.
The Experience in Kenya
I can’t forget to mention the amazing staff at Kigio. We formed such a great bond with each and every one of them. Kiriuki was our cook, he made amazing meals! Since most of them were vegetarian, I felt very lucky! A lot of times it was sautéed vegetables with either rice or pasta. He also made some traditional meals such as chapatti which was my favorite. Tonny was incredibly knowledgeable about the conservancy and his passion was apparent. The rangers were also very kind and worked well with the volunteers. One of my favorite moments was playing volleyball against the staff. There were endless laughs and these are people I will never forget.
Upon leaving Kigio, I felt as though I did not bring much to them; however they brought so much value to my life. They are all working on such an important cause: saving animals. I felt everyday as though we had an immediate purpose in the jobs we were doing. The impact of being able to be a part of such an incredible project is something I will never forget. I will also continuously encourage people to be a part of something like Projects Abroad.
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