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Duttenhaver Conservation Field Study Program – 2011

Funded by the Duttenhaver Fund

Earthwatch Institute in Kenya 2011

In July 2011, seven students and three adult mentors were the fortunate participants in a two-week expedition to the tiny town of Wamba in Kenya as part of the Duttenhaver Conservation and Field Study Program generously sponsored by the Duttenhaver Fund. The student-mentor team assisted scientists with ongoing studies examining the ecology and conservation of the Endangered Grevy’s Zebra at the EarthWatch Institute Center for Drylands Research. In addition to gathering scientific data on the animals and their locations, the group collected information about the invasive plant species that affect the survival of the entire Samburu ecosystem.

This is the fourth consecutive year that the Duttenhaver Fund has sponsored the field study program. The gift was inspired by the donor’s belief in the positive impact of international travel and study and matched the Zoo’s interest in developing field opportunities for students evaluating a future in biological science.

Read on to learn about their experiences…

Andrew Wang, L.A. Zoo Student Volunteer

AndrewWangAll of us shared the same sentiment when we stepped off the plane, onto the airstrip, in the middle of nowhere. It felt like we were on another planet – it was hard to imagine we were still on the same Earth we had left in Los Angeles. Everyone tried to absorb in the surroundings as quickly as possible: the intensely bright and hot equatorial sun illuminating everything around us, the vast expanses of red-brown dirt, dotted with innumerable acacia trees, stretching on and on until finally broken by the peaks of the Matthews Range.

On the two-hour drive to the research center, the amazement continued. The inhabitants of the shrubland began to emerge – gazelles! Impala! Warthogs crossing the road, ostriches keeping pace with the car, and – wow, elephants to the right! Real, wild, African elephants, the largest land animals on the planet, in their natural habitat. It was a sight I never dreamed I would see.

Once we arrived at the Earthwatch Center for Drylands Research near the town of Wamba, we almost immediately settled into living there. This was entirely thanks to the staff of the Center, who perfectly exhibited the famed hospitality and friendliness of the Kenyan people. The native Samburu were also great people, and we had the unique opportunity tour some Samburu dwellings by the invitation of the Center’s night guard, who also happened to be an elder in his community. We learned a great deal about their culture, which included some barbaric practices but also many beautiful ones, such as fascinating dances and beadwork. The way this tribal people were adapting to the 21st century was beyond intriguing: the sight of a Samburu moran (warrior) in traditional dress with a spear at his side and a cell phone at his ear is an image that I will never forget.

The research we helped conduct was tough, but tremendously rewarding. Every morning we woke up just after dawn and loaded our sleepy selves into Land Rovers for hourlong drives into the bush. Our daily eight-kilometer walks in the search of the endangered Grevy’s zebra were tough, but that just made spotting animals that much more satisfying. There were definitely some minor incidents and injuries, including the three-inch acacia thorn that pierced straight through my hiking boot, but overall: mission accomplished. We gathered a great deal of valuable data for the Grevy’s zebra conservation project

When we weren’t working, we relaxed at the Center, chatting and playing cards over spiced chai tea, the favored drink of Kenyans. I became great friends with all the expedition members and got to know their personalities and idiosyncrasies; I helped Murphy Pattiz in his constant search for the spiders, lizards, and all manner of crawling critters that he loved so much, talked often with Becky about our opinions on anything and everything, and asked Hannah, a student from Princeton, all about the summer program that had allowed her to come to Africa.

In all reality, it’s impossible to share what Kenya is really like through words or even pictures. Surrounded by the wilderness and native African peoples, I really felt the weight of immense amounts of natural and human history all around me. I’d like to share one last memory that hopefully illustrates what I mean: we had a chance to visit an overlook of the Great Rift Valley, and standing there, I felt a gust of wind blow over me. I couldn’t help but think, “This is the same wind that our ancestors felt as they emerged from the jungle a hundred thousand years ago.” That is a feeling that nothing can simulate, and I am truly thankful that I was given the opportunity to experience it firsthand.

Becky Chazanoff, Zoo Magnet School Student

BeckyChazanoffWaking up the morning of the trip, I knew that the days to come would be the biggest adventure of my life. The whole team and I were practically ecstatic to get on the plane and arrive in Africa! After sixteen hours to Dubai and another five hours to Nairobi, we were thrilled to have finally made it. However, our joy would have to wait, because as soon as we got to the Hotel Fairview, we all went straight to sleep.

The following morning, we were taken on a game drive to Lake Nakuru National Park, home to the world’s largest population of flamingos. On the way there, we learned a lot about Kenya from our driver; its tribes, traditions, customs, and laws. The park, we discovered, was also home to a multitude of other wildlife, including vervet monkeys, baboons, rock hyraxes, gazelles, kudus, plains zebras, cape buffalo, white rhinos, and so much more. We even saw a black rhino! Toward the end, we finally saw several lionesses and a large male lion. Then, exiting the park, we became surrounded by a huge herd of giraffe! They were gorgeous, and so close! There were even two males necking in the distance. Lake Nakuru was the most beautiful place I’ve ever seen, and the animals were spectacular.

The next day, we boarded a small plane from Wilson Airport to the Samburu Airstrip, located in the middle of Buffalo Springs National Wildlife Reserve. The trip was only about forty  five minutes, and suddenly, we were in another world. Looking out the window of the plane was like leaving our planet behind and stepping into a whole new environment. Samburu was vast and dry. The red earth was sprinkled with acacia trees and termite mounds. There were no buildings and no telephone lines, just animals and trees.  We were greeted with a warm smile by Dr. Paul Muoria, the head of the Grevy’s Zebra Project. He took us through the park as we headed to what would be our home for the next two weeks. Almost immediately, we spotted a herd of elephants! There were about twenty, and they separated and walked right in front and behind our car, completely surrounding us. Seeing African elephants in the wild was incredible. It was a sight I will never forget. We also saw ostrich, dikdik, gerenuk, and oryxes. Finally, after our bumpy three hour ride, we entered Wamba, and shortly after, we reached the Earthwatch Institute where we would be staying.

At the camp, we met Paul, Dr. Paul’s assistant, Hannah, Dr. Paul’s summer intern, and Rachel, Nancy, Janet, Jesinta, and Pedro, the camp staff. The following day, we were briefed on the project. We learned why Grevy’s zebras are endangered and how rapidly their numbers are decreasing, and what we were going to do to help. Our job was to walk on line transects, which were about three to four kilometers, and record all the species of animals we saw. We recorded the species, number, gender, and location of all the animals along our transect using a GPS, a compass, a range finder, and a clipboard. This information would be compiled into a database, and when enough information was collected to form a valid population sample, Dr. Paul would present the case to better conserve the Grevy’s zebras.

We always went into the field with partners and a field guide. Some transects were more difficult than others, but they were always exciting. On our first day, I saw a herd of twenty Grevy’s zebras! I was so excited to report my sighting, and of course to have the privilege of seeing these fantastic animals. I said to my guide “They’re beautiful”, and in his broken English, he looked at me and said “Because they are free.”

Every other day, we went on shorter transects to record invasive plant species by plot and pin sampling, and we measured gullies to keep track of soil degradation to to habitat loss because of overgrazing livestock.

Aside from field work, we learned a lot about Samburu culture. One day we went into town to visit the Children’s Hospital in Wamba, a haven for mentally and physically disabled children who are abandoned by their parents at birth. We played with the kids, and gave the hospital a donation. On another day, we went to a minyata, which is a small group of houses. We were given a tour of the homes, and then, we watched a traditional dance preformed by the murans, or young men. Some of us even joined in the dance. It was a lot of fun, and definitely like nothing any of us had ever seen before.

On our last day in Wamba, Dr. Paul, Paul, and Hannah presented us with the compilation of data we collected and explained how it would go on to help the project. Devastatingly but not unexpectedly, over the whole trip we only counted about thirty Grevy’s zebras, whereas overall we counted thousands of sheep and goats. It was bad news, but it was also the reason we came.

Dr. Paul concluded his lecture by saying “It is not enough to present problems. If everyone just sat and talked about problems, nothing would get done. You have to come up with a solution if you want to help.” That was the best advice I’ve ever heard. I took that quote to heart, as I’m sure my teammates did as well.

After a final dinner around the campfire and sad goodbyes, we started our long trip home.  Leaving Kenya was hard, but we knew that our work there made a difference. My Earthwatch experience was one I’ll never forget. I learned so much, had an opportunity to do something great, matured as a person, had so much fun, and went on the adventure of a lifetime. The Los Angeles Zoo and Linda Duttenhaver gave me and six of my friends an opportunity beyond our imaginations, and I can never be thankful enough.

Jacqueline Ayala, Zoo Magnet School Student

JackieAyalaKenya is a magical place with its gorgeous, colorful sunsets and diverse landscape; the mountains surrounding Wamba, our campsite, and Lake Nakuru where you can feel the shade from the harsh sun; the red iron rich soil home to the millions of Acacia trees and other thorny bushes; the gray-brown dirt of the open grassland areas where you see many animals grazing and crossing, as well as feel an occasional breeze.

Having never been outside of our country, let alone the state of California, this trip was my first international experience and it fulfilled all of my expectations and more. This trip was an eye opener and I came torealize how we take for granted certain aspects of our lifestyle here in the United States, such as clean water, a place to live, having nutritious food, and good health. Seeing firsthand the condition of the Kenyan lifestyle made me appreciate my home but also kept me asking questions about their amazingly rich culture.

I learned a lot about the Samburu culture, which was the area that we lived in for the two weeks. Having camp staff that lived in the town like Janet, Jacinta, and Nancy, as well as living with our camp manager Rachel and research assistant Paul Gacheru, we were able to ask them any questions we had about Kenya and the culture of their country. We would ask them how to say phrases in Swahili and Samburu, and about the young men called Morans which we saw during the day out in the field with their herd of cattle or goats. One night we were able to visit the manyatta, or a village, that our night guard, Iddi, lived in, and we got to see the Morans dancing and jumping; we even got to join them ourselves.

We saw many different parts of Kenya; Nairobi, the capital of Kenya, as well as Nakuru National Park where we had a game drive around Lake Nakuru; we saw the Samburu area but more specifically the town of Wamba, where our camp was located. There was such diversity between the city of Nairobi and the smaller towns. The economic classes were apparent, seeing big houses anddecent apartment buildingsin the city, and then seeing crumbling brick buildings, and small wooden buildings that were barely a step above a shack in the smaller towns. Seeing people bike ride and walk right next to herds of cows and goats was so different for me but so natural for them. It was natural for a person to graze their cows along the highway grass. The buildings in the poorer areas were covered with rust and advertisements for Safaricom, Airtel, and Coco-Cola.

Our game drive through Lake Nakuru National Park was amazing and so much fun. Getting to see the wildlife there was like a dream. I have seen these animals in zoos before but it was different seeing them in their natural setting in Africa. We would drive past herds of Cape Buffalo and Common Zebras all grazing on the damp green grass. There were troops of Baboons walking down the mountains and in the road next to our vehicles; it was really cute seeing the mothers with their babies on their backs. We saw a mother Rhino and her calf off the road by some trees; it was incredible to see something so big be so careful and nurturing with her young. Then we came across a herd of male Giraffes together on the road and off the road; we saw some younger males hitting each other and then running away, it reminded me of little kids rough housing in the playground.

On a separate drive through Buffalo Springs National Reserve to our campsite in Wamba, we saw a different landscape of dry, gray-brown dirt versus the lush green of the Lake Nakuru area. In Buffalo Springs we saw Warthogs running away from us with their tails held high in the air; Gazelles and Gerenuks hiding in the shade of the Acacia trees and termite mounds; then my favorite moment came when two herds of Elephants walked in front and behind our car. Elephants are my favorite animal and seeing them all so close and in their natural environment made my day and trip. That was one of my favorite parts of the trip, seeing the wildlife. It’s amazing to be in Africa and to see these animals in nature.

Kenya is a place I will not soon forget and a place I want to go back to. The kindness of the people was so welcoming and I enjoyed the smiles of the people and the children as we passed by. The research that we did here was important to helping with the Grevy’s Zebra conservation program. I wish to return to Kenya to help with the research project or to learn more about the Samburu culture. There is so much that I learned while in Kenya for those amazing two weeks but there is even more that I did not learn and that  wish to discover in my future travels.

Elizabeth Vidar, Zoo Magnet School Student

LiziVidarI stepped off the plane after over 20 hours of travel and there was no doubt in my mind that I was in Africa. Mini-buses packed the streets, our car was on the wrong side of the road, and acacia trees lined every street. Kenya was immediately beautiful, from the acacia trees to the cows roaming the roads. This magical country now feels like my second home, all thanks to our expedition.

The ten of us went to Kenya to contribute to the conservation of the amazing Grevy’s Zebras. I began the trip with the mind-set that I was there to work. We went there as members of a research team and none of us knew the full potential to explore culture that this trip had. Not only did we collect data, but we also immersed ourselves in a new culture.  Every morning we collected data, walking 6 miles through African terrain.  We always had a guide with us, a Kenyan native. We got to know them, and they showed us their land that they knew so well. With them we didn’t need to us a GPS, we didn’t need to use a book to identify plants, and we were comforted by the protection they provided from large dangerous animals.  These guides allowed us to help the Grevy’s. The population of Grevy’s Zebras has dropped to devastatingly low numbers. They are hunted for their skin and meat, they have to compete with livestock for resources, and there is no enforcement on poaching laws. All of these factors contribute to their dwindling population, and that is why we worked so hard. The Grevy’s are such amazing creatures, and we want to keep them alive. Every day after we were done with our work, we went back to the camp where we lived and rested in preparation for our next day of work.

At camp I made new friends that I will never forget. I spent hours in the kitchen learning how to cook Kenyan dishes, how to speak Swahili and Samburu, and about Janet and Jacinta’s lives. Janet and Jacinta were camp staff who cooked for the research team every day. They were two of the nicest people I have ever met. They gladly welcomed our team into their hometown and taught us everything we needed to know. The American team and the Kenyan team were fast friends. Our two weeks in Kenya made so many great memories that it felt as if we had lived there for years.  My most fond memories of the trip are learning new games, new recipes, and a new language. I can now play a cutthroat game of Mancala, make a mean eggplant dish, and tell the whole team “goodnight” in Swahili.  I will never forget the smile on Jacinta’s face when I could accurately respond to her questions in Swahili. The time we spent at camp made this trip so meaningful to me.

One intriguing thing about being in another country is that you realize the roadblocks you come across can be very different. Our days consisted of avoiding elephant herds, keeping on the look out for lions, and waiting for camels to cross the road. The first night that the team stayed at camp, the girls house had a problem with the shower. I was awoken at about three in the morning to hear the shower was on and that my fellow team members, Becky and Suzanne, were using flashlights to guide themselves into the bathroom to turn off the water. After many minutes of fumbling the water turned off and we went to sleep. The next morning we asked Rachel, the camp manager, why the water would turn on in the middle of the night. Rachel responded casually, telling us that elephants could have been walking on the pipes, affecting the water pressure. For Rachel and the rest of the Kenyans, elephants on the pipes was a normal problem.  It was always entertaining to be awoken in the morning from the sound of monkeys running across our roof. The roof of our house was tin, and the family of vervet monkeys that lived in our back yard graced us with their presence throughout the day and night. We had never experienced monkeys as a wake up call before, but the ladies who worked at camp would just wave them away, and occasionally feed them some stale bread. Elephants caused plumbing problems, and monkeys were like pigeons. Life in Kenya was very different from life in America, but those differences made every minute of our trip amazing.

Upon returning from Kenya, everyone I know asked the same few questions about the trip. “How was Kenya?” “Was it hard to live there?” “Would you go back?” Thinking about it now those questions are so easy to answer- Kenya was life changing. The challenges are what made every second interesting. I would go back in a heartbeat; I wouldn’t even hesitate to live there. I know that eventually I will make new memories in Kenya, but for now these are the ones that make me look back and smile.

Maria Montano, Zoo Magnet School Student

MariaMontano Going to Africa has been an amazing experience. With out a doubt this has been an experience of a life time. I can’t thank enough Linda Duttenhaver for this wonderful opportunity.

This trip has made me view things differently. Kenya is a gorgeous country with wonderful people. Although it is a poor country and is not fully developed like it is here in the United States, the people there work hard to get enough to support themselves and their families. Although they don’t have a lot like we do here, you could see in their faces how they appreciate life. They are so happy practicing there culture, caring for there life stock, and just enjoying what they have. It was adorable to see the children running up while the car drove by just to wave and say “chow”. It was nice to know that although these people don’t have the technology like we do, they are doing what they can to survive and enjoy the life they were born in.

Working in the field has been an incredible experience. I always dreamed of working with scientist and helping conserve the endangered species; and that is exactly what I did while I was there. We worked in the field recording our observation, taking pictures of zebras, counting the number of zebras and other animal (whether it was life stock or wild animals) that were around the area, and also recording invasive plants and gullies. This was all to see if any of the recorded information had a link to why the number of gravy zebras is decreasing. We walked for four kilometers. In total it was about four hours. From eight in the morning to noon. It would get hot while we worked but we were prepared for the weather. After the fieldwork we had to go to the workroom and record all the information in the computer. We were separated in groups so each group had to record their own information. This experience just made me want to work more in the field and educate people about how amazing wildlife is and without it life wouldn’t be as it is right now.

If I could go back to Kenya I’ll go without thinking twice about it. This trip opened another world to me. A world that I never saw or thought off. The people I worked with were wonderful. They never stopped worrying if we were comfortable and if anything was needed. They cooked us delicious food, did an amazing job cleaning the compound, and interacting with us. I can’t thank enough the people that we worked with and who made us feel like home while we were there. Because of this trip now I know for sure that working with animals and helping make a difference is what I see myself doing in the future. Not only that, but also to embrace other cultures and be apart of their traditional customs. It was really fun interacting with the people and I’m glad they gave us the opportunity to be a part of their traditions. From them, I learned to cherish the life that I have and the people that are in it. I may not have all the materials I may want but the stuff that I have are enough and I should be proud of that, because they are proud of what they have and that is a wonderful lesson to have.

Jonathan “Murphy” Pattiz, Zoo Magnet School Student

MurphyPattizThere are very few experiences that can truly be considered unforgettable.  The journey I took with Earthwatch to Kenya was such an experience.  The adventures we had, the work we did, all of it amounts to a trip that changed my life forever.  The expedition was to collect data on the endangered Grevy’s Zebra to help get a better understanding of their true numbers and why they are dying out.  The people we worked with at the Earthwatch Compound made the experience as fun as it was educational.

The day that we left on that long flight out to Kenya I knew it would be different from anything I had ever done before.  The day we got we were too tired and it was too dark for us to really enjoy Nairobi.  The next morning we headed out to lake Nakuru for a game drive and it was an absolutely enchanting experience.  Nakuru had the largest population of Flamingos in the world.  We also got to see both species of rhinos, giraffes, lions, impalas, gazelles, waterbuck, baboons, vervet monkeys, and agamas.  We got to see so many of the animals Africa is famous for and it was only the first day.  It was definitely a foreshadowing of days to come.

When we arrived at the Samburu Airstrip after a forty-five minute plane ride in a puddle jumper from Nairobi, I thought we had arrived in a an old movie set in Africa.  The acacia trees, the dusty red Earth, the heat, all of them were just like the Africa depicted in those old films. The airstrip itself was a single runway, and it looked like a road.  The airport was made of mud buildings with thatch roofs.  After we were done being hustled by the clerks at the duty free shops we met up with Dr. Paul Muoria, who led us on our way to the compound.  Along the way, we saw elephants, Dik-Dik, gerenuks, Grant’s Gazelles, and our first two Grevy’s Zebras. We were not even doing fieldwork yet and we had already seen some.  I thought that perhaps they were doing better than previously anticipated.  I had no idea how wrong I was.  When we arrived at the compound, I was surprised at how nice the accommodations, and the people were.  I knew then and there that we were going to have a very enjoyable expedition.  After the meetings the next day with small Paul (Paul Gacheru), Hannah, and our first couple of delightful meals courtesy of the kitchen staff (Rachelle, Jacinta, Nancy, and Janet) we were ready to being the fieldwork that would gather data on the Grevy’s Zebra.

There were four main ways of doing fieldwork in the Samburu region.  They all involved following a transect, which is a pre-determined line that must be followed from a starting point to an ending point.  The first method was to walk in teams of two with a guide, and mark down information about any animals, including livestock, that we saw.  Someone followed the GPS to make sure that we followed the transect and got back safely on each of the methods.  The second method was to do to plant sampling.  This involved walking a distance and dropping a pin and marking down whatever plant it touched.  There was another form of plant sampling but I was always on pin dropping.  The third method was gully measuring.  This involved marking, measuring, and categorizing any gullies found.  Luckily, on all the times I did that we did not find that many.  This was luckily because a gully is caused by soil erosion from lack of grass due to overgrazing from livestock.  The fourth and final method of collecting data was to actually drive out in the van and look actively for the zebras.  When I did this one, we saw eleven of them.  In total, we counted around thirty zebras on the expedition.

One of the other things that caught my attention is how friendly the local people at Wamba are.  The kids run up and wave when you drive past them.  The people always seem to make jokes and have a smile on their face.  Though there existence is simple, they seem to be truly happy with it.  Perhaps one of the most important things to note about the culture of the Samburu people is that they do not hunt any wild animals and very rarely kill their own livestock for food.  They have such a profound respect for living things around them that they do not kill them.  That made me very happy since I hate any sort of hunting, especially for the sport of it.  Another thing about their culture that caught my attention is that each of the eight tribes of the Samburu people are said to have a unique power over either an animal or a part of the environment.  Some can influence elephants, while others influence ticks, snakes, fire, or other things.  Hearing the local lore really did remind me of the power of belief in Wamba.

It was tough to say goodbye to the people at the compound as we left the Samburu region on our way back to Nairobi to prepare for the long journey home.  Still, while we waited for the airplane that would take us to Dubai, we went to the Nairobi National Park for a walk-through safari of some of the animals we did not get to see in our adventures.  We saw a hyena, an albino zebra, cheetahs, a leopard, a pygmy hippo, and much, much more.  I thought it was a great way to conclude our journey in Kenya.  I even cried on the airplane back from Dubai to Los Angeles because of the people, places, and experiences we were saying goodbye to.  I do plan to return to Wamba and help them continue their research one day, hopefully within the next few years.

Ryan Rodriguez, L.A. Zoo Student Volunteer

RyanRodriguezHaving the opportunity to participate in a field studies expedition in Kenya is truly living the dream. It does not get any better than trekking and driving through an African Savannah observing a vast amount of wildlife ranging from the small and skittish dikdik to a heard of African Elephants and doing field work with so many wonderful fellow students, mentors, and staff. Being in Kenya was an experience like no other. It felt like being in a new world as we were introduced to new environment and with it new people, cultures and lifestyles. Having the opportunity to explore and learn about such fascinating cultures and animals first hand in such a life changing experience would never have been possible without the generous financial support from Mrs. Duttenhaver and the hard work of planning and setting up everything for the expedition to make sure everything runs smoothly from Heather Shields. It is wonderful that there are such great people like them to make my dreams and the dreams of everyone else who participated in the expedition come true.

It was a long and exhausting ride to reach Kenya but not long once we reached Nairobi our Africa trip kicked off with a bang. One of our first and probably our biggest animal observation highlights was our game drive at Lake Nakuru national park, where we got to see many of our favorite and popular animals in the wild for the first time including numerous gazelles and Zebras and herds of Buffalo throughout the green grasslands, numerous giraffes browsing in the trees and even often crossing the road, and many large troops of mischievous baboons. Numerous groups of Waterbuck, Impala, and even some Rhino sightings added to our group’s successful game drive along with the sighting of three lions. The sight of the lake was a scene of beauty unmatched by anything else with thousands of Flamingos, Pelicans, and Cranes as far as the eye can see residing in the large clear blue waters of the lake. Lake Nakuru was greater than any of us could have possibly imagined and was the best way to start our first full day in Africa.

The next day we flew to Samburu through Kenya air and arrived at the most unusual airport we have ever laid our eyes on which contained five market stands, a few restroom stalls, and a hut for shade. It was definitely a different feel than being in our 4 star hotel called the Fairview just the day before. Driving through the Samburu national park for the first time on our way to the Earthwatch center in Wamba there could not have been a much better welcome than quickly coming across two herds of elephants at the same time, one herd behind the car and another in front. Seeing two long lines consisting of over a dozen elephants each crossing the road and roaming free in the expansive desert-like savannah habitat of the Samburu Reserve was definitely something none of us in the group would have ever expected to see, especially so quickly among our first hours in Samburu.

Throughout our two weeks in Wamba and the Samburu area we worked on many projects pertaining to studying the threats of the future survival of the Grevy’s zebra, heavily looking into the issues of food competition, invasive plant species, and soil degradation. These projects were carried out through a transect line method to search for and record any animals spotted, invasive species, or gullies depending on the day and people assigned and all recorded info will be put into a computer database once we arrive back to our camp from the transect. The afternoon was often our leisure time in which we often spent with other members of our time chatting or playing card games till sunset. Once night came we would look up and gaze at the stars that never seemed so bright and numerous before. The sight of millions of stars lighting up the night was truly a sight to behold as many of us would lay on a platform and spend sometimes up to or longer than an hour just staring at the night sky, along with a number of small bats that would fly around as well.

Throughout our stay in Wamba and around the Samburu region there were a number of times we got to learn about and witness first-hand the local lifestyle and culture. One of our most emotional experiences was visiting the Wamba of which were able to provide some attention and care and put smiles on many of the children’s faces and saw how everyone who volunteered there did so much with what little they have to bring joy to the lives of every child that lives there. A few days later we also got to attend a culture day event that was organized for us and we were able to observe the manyattas the native people live in, many people in their elaborate cultural clothing and beaded headdresses, and even got to see and take part in some Samburu dances.

This was truly an experience of a lifetime not only because of the animals we got to see, but also the people we have come to know. I will always treasure the moments I was able to enjoy with the team from watching the elephants on our first day in Nairobi to hearing Paul Gacheru’s funny and unusual riddles and jokes. This experience has motivated me to work harder now to follow my passion. Entering my final year of high school I know that there are going to be many important decisions to make such as deciding what college I choose to attend and what career path I decide to follow and hope that someday I will be fortunate enough to return to Kenya. Asante sana to my fellow team members and the people of Earthwatch for giving me the time of my life.

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