Environmental Science faculty members John "Buck" Banks and Jim Gawel are in Kenya with undergraduates during the month of February to study critical issues in conservation and sustainability, with special reference to biological diversity, development, and community-based environmental efforts.

We are here in the northern Kenyan region of Samburu, where we are spending this week at the Earthwatch Kenya Drylands Research Field station in the small town of Wamba. We are into our third day here, after a long 6+ hour drive north from Lang’ata – the last hour or so of which was across a dusty sand track. The landscape here is dotted with ancient volcanic cinder cones, and is scrubby and arid, with water conservation and quality central to many environmental and social concerns.

The station here has been the site of many community-based environmental research projects conducted by Earthwatch Institute over the past several years. Before we left Lang’ata, Dr. Nick Oguge (Director of Eathwatch Kenya, and President of the Ecological Society for East Africa) visited us and gave us an overview of the various research projects that have been conducted here. These include an ethnobotany investigation into the efficacy of various local plants as medicinal cures, and a project focusing on the conservation of an endangered zebra species. This species, the Grevy’s zebra (Equus grevyi), numbers fewer than 3000 in the wild now. Once widespread throughout East Africa, it has been driven to extinction in all but Kenya and Ethiopia, with most of the dwindling population residing in the Samburu region where we are staying. Our first morning here, in fact, we set out into the bush to look for Grevy’s zebras – and were able to find a small population within an hour or two! We also stopped at a local regional market afterwards and wandered among the stalls of vendors from far and wide selling their wares.

The last few days have been spent doing fieldwork – including an 8km hike in the watershed up in the mountains behind the station (part of the Matthews range) to take water samples from the river running down into the village (to test for pH., conductivity, and bacteria as measures of water quality), and a visit to some nearby subsistence farms to collect data on herbivory and insect biological diversity. We’ll do some more water quality testing and some insect sorting and identification over the next few days – then we’ll head back south to Nairobi and out to the coast!

Read messages from the students and all about their adventures on their blog, Notes in the Field.

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