An Ending

Thirty-five days, twenty-eight mammals, fifteen volunteers, four towns, two farm blocks, and too many meters of rope later, I’ve arrived back home.

The last day at Kivuli Camp for myself and for Team 2 was spent packing and picture-taking, as we reminisced on our time in Kenya and expressed both our excitement to see loved ones and our regret that we had to go home.

After spending time in Africa, it’s difficult to imagine simply going back home and forgetting about the people, the music, the animals, the food, and the sunsets. Though I am grateful to be home and benefiting from such luxuries as tap water, hot showers, washing machines, disposal services, and supermarkets, I can’t help but be haunted by both the beauty of Africa and the hardships its people face.

Five weeks in Kenya has taught me to appreciate how lucky I am to live where I do and to have as many opportunities available to me as I do, but I left Kenya feeling inspired by the resilience and the sense of community so abundant in its people. I’ve realized that, though the people are in severe need of basic necessities such as clean water, vaccinations, housing, education, hygienic products, and guaranteed access to food, they have proven that possessing things does not equal happiness – a lesson that we often forget.

Still, there is work to be done. But this trip has taught me that it is possible to make a difference, and there are other like-minded people who are interested in making a difference too. So, if that applies to you, my advice to you is: DO IT! If you want to contribute to any sort of wildlife conservation or humanitarian project, just go for it! If you’re interested in this project specifically, there is still plenty of work to be done. You can learn more about the program here. Whatever your interests may be, whether it’s this project or another, it really is never too late to get out there, get your hands dirty, and have a blast in the process.

Personally, this experience has truly been unforgettable. Each day since my return home I think back to my time in Kenya, hoping to live my life in a way that honors the determination, courage, and love shown to me in my time there. I think what they say must be true – once Africa is in your heart, it stays with you forever.


Hyenas & Haggling

It was Thursday, and Saturday marked the end of our journey in Kenya. Naturally, then, it was time to buy souvenirs.

Following a filling breakfast, the team headed to town. Voi, the largest town in the area, is a marketplace, and as such, the perfect place to search for gifts. After a few hours of friendly bartering, the group returned to camp bearing bags of fabric, jewelry, and other ornate works.

After a late lunch, the team headed out for the third and final competitive transect, the transect to end all transects.

Team 1’s journey began with little hope, as our trail was populated only by the ever-prevalent dik-dik (pictured in the featured image). Our luck changed with the spotting of some cape buffalo and impala. However, our final spot was our luckiest and, perhaps, the game winner – a striped hyena. Upon spotting this animal, we realized how truly lucky we were to be there, and all thoughts of competition went out the window.

The striped hyena was, in fact, the game-winner, and Team 1 was victorious with a score of 492 to Team 2’s 365. In reality, we were all feeling like winners that night, as we ate our potato soup and our chapati and reflected on how incredible the past two weeks had been. Anyone could tell – if not by the transect sheets, then by the smiles on our faces.

Work and Play

After a two-day break from fence-building, on Wednesday we all returned to work. The morning involved a tree transect, wherein the group split into teams and measured various trees in order to determine the presence of elephants in the area, as well as the level of protection available for other wildlife. We spent the late morning and afternoon putting together deterrent fences and listening to music, taking breaks here and there to snack, bird-watch, share pictures, and play Monopoly Deal (a game I still don’t understand).

Upon finishing with the fences for the day, we all changed clothes and grabbed our cameras before heading out for day two of the transect competition. Currently, the score stood at a whopping 243 to 176, in favor of Team 2. Let the spotting begin!

This time, Team 1 found luck by way of elephant, black-backed jackals, and zebra, among others. Our success pulled us into the lead, though just by a hare (in fact, we saw cape hares the previous night) at 312 to 287. We were neck-and-neck, and very uncertain of the fate of the game.

Fun and Games

Following the completion of block 3 and the hike on Mt. Kasigau, the team was feeling both tired and accomplished, and though we were worn and missing our loved ones, we still were not ready to return home.

The next day, post-hike, we all visited the Sesenyi school, which is just a short ways from the project site. The volunteers brought with them school supplies from the U.S., which were to be passed onto the Sesenyi school-children. As soon as we left the vehicles, inquisitive, youthful gazes met our own. 

The kids greeted us with “hello”s and high-fives, and their curiosity soon took to our cameras. One boy requested I take his portrait (marked by a thumbs-up) and show it to him. While he toyed with my camera he soon found out features with which the camera was equipped, features that, prior to that moment, I hadn’t even known existed. We’d only been there ten minutes, and the kids were already teaching us things.

 Soon the bell rang, and the students returned to their classrooms. We were met by one of the faculty, who greeted and informed us about the school while giving us a tour of the grounds. After touring the school, dropping off supplies, thanking the faculty, and signing the guestbook, we left for camp.

The evening was fast approaching, and with it a competition. The animal transects we conducted so regularly now had an added element – each animal spotted was worth a given number of points, and the team with the most points by the end of three nights would be the winner. The reward? The losing team had to buy the winners sodas at the end-of-trip barbecue. The teams are as follows:

Team 1                                              Team 2

Sarah (me)                                        Melissa

Gabe                                                   Nita

Jake                                                    Mikael

Ryan D.                                              Ryan I.

Due to a large population of vultures as well as some other good finds on Team 2’s part, day one brought a score of 243 to 176, in favor of Team 2.  Team 1, however, is trying not to feel discouraged, as there are still two more nights of spotting in our future! Let the games begin!




Reaching New Heights

Monday morning arrived, and with it a day of adventure. The team woke for breakfast at 7am, filling up to energize for the day ahead. After packing our necessities and ensuring we each had plenty of water and snacks, we boarded the vehicles and headed to the base of Kasigau, a 1600 meter mountain.

We drove a short ways up a sunken dirt road before parking in an alley and meeting our three guides – Emmanuel, Nicholas, and Victor. After a bush break and a quick introduction, we began the ascent. The highest peak was our goal, though we weren’t sure if we would make it.

The terrain started out as a steady uphill dirt and gravel path, which carried on for about an hour. We stopped briefly for water and a look at the view, which was already impressive. 

Soon we carried on, aware of how far we had yet to go. After an hour or so in the sun, we were relieved when the path became forested and shaded from the sun. The incline grew steeper and steeper as we grew more tired, but we were rewarded with bouts of flatland.

After several more steep sections, we paused for lunch – cheese sandwiches, hardboiled eggs, oranges, chips, and juice. We took in our now jungle-like surroundings while considering if anyone was too tired to carry on. Fortunately, the whole team was prepared to go further, so we packed up lunch and carried on up the mountain.

After an hour of more steep uphill hiking, we came to the final lookout point before the peak. The guides informed us that it would be another forty minutes to the peak, and it would include the most difficult hiking. Some of the team decided to pursue the peak, while others were curious to view the lookout point. As such, we parted ways, with my group headed for the peak and the other headed to the viewpoint.

The first part of the final stretch was fairly flat, though the terrain grew more wet, and we were informed that we were now in a cloudforest.

The flatland soon ended, and we were met with a steep and muddy ascent to the top. After thirty minutes of climbing through the dirty but beautiful terrain, we reached the peak.

We were met with a breathtaking view of the surrounding area. We mused at the fact that we could see the ranch from there, as Amakobe pointed out some of our transect roads. After pictures, a snack, and a drink of water, we began the two hour trek back down the mountain.

We met the other team near the base and were happy to hear that their view had been equally amazing – they could even see our camp from where they stood!

By the end of the hike, we were all substantially exhausted from our seven hour journey. While our bodies ached, our hearts soared knowing that we achieved what we set out to do, and we got to do it in good company. 

Block 3 Complete

Team 2 has been working hard – block 3 is complete!

Every morning we eat breakfast at 7am and go to the fields, where we measure fields and put up deterrents. We stay entertained through conversation with each other and the farmers’, sometimes pausing to play hacky sack or to show toys to the farmers’ kids. After some hours in the fields, we return to camp for a hearty lunch. Following lunch, we spend time building fence which will be hung up the following day. During this time we listen to music, sometimes turning the fence-building into a friendly competition.

The evenings are typically spent on transects searching for wildlife. The team has maintained an ongoing species list, including elephant, giraffe, zebra, lesser kudu, impala, gerenuk, lion, cheetah, ostrich, warthog, dik-dik, black-backed jackal, baboon, and more!

The team has become tightly-knit, and it will be hard to say goodbye! Luckily, though, we still have some days of adventure ahead of us! The journey isn’t over yet.

Team 2 Enters

When one door closes, another opens, and so with the departure of Team 1, Team 2 has landed. The jet-lagged group of volunteers, who are students at the Los Angeles Zoo Magnet School and interns at the LA Zoo, arrived at Kivuli Camp on Sunday evening. Though they were weary from days of travel, excitement still shone in their eyes, and after a glass of passion fruit juice, they all felt rejuvenated.

Monday was filled with orientation, during which the volunteers were introduced to the project and the area it encompasses. After a morning and afternoon of learning, the scientists, myself, and Team 2 all left for a game drive en route to a hike at Lokidori Hill. Elephant and cheetah were among those spotted (though one was spotted more than the other), lifting our spirits even higher.

Upon our arrival at Lokidori, we enjoyed the always breath-taking Kenya sunset, momentarily distracted by any tiredness we might be feeling from the long day. Soon we retired back to camp for a feast of a dinner, which was punctuated by the presence of a walking stick bug, and off to bed we went.

Much like a game vehicle’s few-minute-old trail in the bush, the dust is beginning to settle, while familiarity with the environment and with each other grows. Meanwhile, our enthusiasm for the project is as abundant as the dik-dik – we can’t see it dwindling any time soon.