We embarked on our third course last Tuesday, leaving Mpala after only a fleeting reunion and heading to another private conservancy, Lewa. This course, the Natural History of Large Mammals, is taught by Dan Rubenstein, head of the EEB Department, and assisted by an Australian professor named Fiona. In addition to readings and short discussions we’re doing two separate field projects here – the first was to examine the effect of mobile bomas (a cattle ranching technique) by recording and comparing dung and vegetation levels. Our second project, which we began yesterday, involves monitoring zebra and impala to determine how they balance their time between eating and watching for predators/rivals. Though it can be a bit repetitive at times, I’ll take it over lectures or problem sets any day.
Lewa is a bit larger than Mpala, and has a much more habituated wildlife population. Driving around the roads we constantly see herds of elephants, giraffes, zebra, impala, gazelles, ostriches, etc. Most days I can check my email via a communal computer at ~5pm, and twice this week I’ve watched out the window as a herd of plains zebra comes galloping past the courtyard in front of me. The conservancy runs an upscale ecotourism business, so all minibuses and street cars (called saloon cars here) are banned, and only brown/green land rovers are allowed in. While driving around we’ve passed many fancy green safari trucks with tourists in the back driven by Maasai men in full warrior garb.
The cabins we’re staying in are beautiful (as always), and are plagued/blessed (depending on your point of view) with a large and assertive population of vervet monkeys. These white-furred, black-faced, blue-balled monkeys romp and play in the trees, tents and clotheslines around the cabins, and are the most charismatic scoundrels you have ever seen. I’ve personally watched them sneak into a tent and come away with a wrapped bar of soap, and just the other day they came through the sunroof of our car and took Fiona’s sunscreen (which was found, full of bite marks, three hours later on the grass outside our cabin).
Unfortunately I can’t upload pictures during this trip, but rest assured they will be up (including 3 albums from my LAST trip) once I get back. We’re moving from Lewa to Ol Pejeta – another ranch/conservancy – on Wednesday, so perhaps I’ll have better internet there – if not then look for them when we get back to Mpala on the 9th.