For the past three months, I’ve been what I can only assume is the definition of a multidisciplinary researcher: super busy. With the addition of a whirlwind two month visit from one of my favorite people on the planet, this blog has become almost as dusty as my hair after driving for 5 minutes in the bush (actually nothing will ever be as dusty as the roads here, but I digress). Here’s a quick-ish update:
For the past few months I’ve had camera traps up on parts of the Lake Nakuru National Park fence to try and gain a better understanding of how often carnivores are crossing the fence into the community lands and other areas. The answer so far: nearly every day. Although carnivores such as spotted and striped hyenas, black backed jackals, civets, and many more are crossing the fence, various other species are trying their darnedest to get across as well. Every evening there are buffaloes sniffing at the holes going under the fence, presumably wondering “maybe tonight I’ll fit under there” (nope, you won’t.), and frequently staring across at each other from either side of the fence (longingly, if I’m allowed to anthropomorphize a little bit). The animals that do make it under the fence are on par with some of the best yoga gurus I’ve ever seen, contorting their bodies into odd and flexible shapes to squeeze into the small space below the bottom wire (not electrified) while avoiding the electrified wires above. You may wonder, how are these animals getting through a formidable electric fence? It appears warthogs and other wildlife are constantly digging new holes, and the fence maintenance workers are hard at work blocking the holes every day- seems like a tough job in a park entirely encompassed by a fence!
This part of the work has led to some interesting field experiences as well. One day, I was checking the camera traps and found one of them completely destroyed. Assuming humans were responsible, I took a quick look through the photos. Much to my surprise, the culprit was actually a particularly vindictive southern ground hornbill! According to the photos, he went at it for about 30 minutes and then, finally satisfied with his work, he was on his way. Somehow, the camera’s capabilities survived the attack, albeit now with pink daytime photos.
Hopefully these small fence-crossing analyses, along with the conflict mapping, hyena movement tracking, and participatory mapping, can lead to a better understanding of whether and how “conservation fencing” can be successful given that it may be a major direction for conservation in the future.
Mapping and a meal
My team and I have also been working hard to meet as many community members as possible and involve them in participatory mapping and interview sessions to better understand their experiences with human-carnivore conflict, their risk perceptions, and the resources and places they feel are important in their landscapes. In these sessions, community members participate in interviews one-on-one and then come together as a group for the mapping, while also enjoying chai and a hearty breakfast. As representatives of their communities’ experiences, things get lively and people have been enthusiastic to share their stories. Maps hold enormous power, and building them from the ground up can be one way to positively influence management by including the spatial perspectives of communities and elevating their voices.
I’ve left out a lot of things- such as the work we’ve been doing with IDing individual hyenas, creating ID sheets for them (you can tell spotted hyenas apart by their spot patterns), land cover mapping, and fence mapping, but that’ll be for a future post. As we wait for Kenya’s (quite untimely for me!) blanket ban on wildlife darting to be lifted so we can place our GPS collars on hyenas, we are trying to pack in as much community work and hyena tracking as possible. In camp life, I found out few months ago (using a camera trap near my camp) that Soysambu not only had three 1-month-old brand new lion cubs, but that they had likely been born in my camp and I had been unknowingly walking past them (and mama) every day! So between work and general day-to-day, life here in the bush, as usual, has been a generally satisfying mix of fascinating and difficult. The work is chugging along steadily, we’re trying to remain flexible in spite of major roadblocks, and I still have the dream of making it home before Christmas- we’ll see!
(Note: This work is currently funded by National Geographic Society)