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NWP Global Registry of Apprentice Ecologists - Samburu National Park, Kenya

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Samburu National Park, Kenya
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Registered: October 2012
City/Town/Province: Farmington
Posts: 1
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I am standing under the hot Kenyan sun, surrounded by prickly acacia bushes and desert-dry earth spreading from my feet to what seems to be every corner of the world. The air smells hot and muddy, and all I can hear are shouts of “More maji!” (“More water!”) among a jumble of unintelligible Swahili. Unbothered by the din around me, I cautiously reach out to touch an elephant’s foot. I place one finger delicately near her toenails, which, I notice, are better described as rocks embedded in a colossal mass of skin and muscle. Someone shouts at me to write down the medicine dosage for the elephant, who has been tranquilized so that a vet can give her antibiotics. Although she survived the bullets of some unsuccessful ivory poachers, her wounds are now infected and must be treated.
I was lucky to help save the elephant. Though my role was minor, the effect it had on me was huge, and this mere twenty-five minute operation changed both the elephant’s life and mine. She was given the chance to live; as she stood up again, dazed but stronger than ever, the pride and happiness I felt for her confirmed my growing feeling that this life pursuing conservation was the life for me.
My name is Celia O’Brien. This past June, I traveled, for the third time, to northern Kenya to intern at Save the Elephants. Save the Elephants (STE) is an organization that studies elephants to protect them from poaching. Their ivory is in high demand throughout Asia, and as a result, the African elephant population is decreasing at an alarming rate. I interned at Save the Elephants’ research camp in Samburu National Park to better understand not only the elephants themselves, but also the problems and threats they face today.
Each morning we (the researchers and I) went out on a drive for about 3 hours, stopping whenever we saw a herd of elephants. The researchers knew the families well from working with and studying them for a long time, so using their knowledge of the family members (how many calves, how old the matriarch is, etc.) and by looking at the elephants’ ears, they identified which herd we were looking at. (Elephants’ ears, like human fingerprints, are unique to each elephant). The herds are identified in themed groups—for example, the Planets herd includes elephants named Pluto and Mercury; while the First Ladies herd has Michelle, Jackie, Martha, and others). STE has an identification book full of all the known elephants’ photos, sketches of their ears and tusks, and their names. We used the book to verify that our identifications were correct. I made sketches of the elephants I saw, drawing their ears and tusks and writing their name or identification number next to the sketch. I also made several family trees for certain herds. They included birth and death years of the elephants and the cause of death, indicated by an “X” of a certain color. This helped us see more easily the family dynamics of elephants, their typical lifespan, and the recent increase in the number of poached elephants. In the afternoons, after finishing the family trees, I helped organize data about bull (male) elephants: when they were last seen, how many times in a certain month they were seen, and whether they were in musth (ready to mate). I learned a lot about the social behavior of elephants and their family dynamics, mostly from the family trees I made. While on the drives, some researchers would do focal follows: each researcher would pick an elephant to watch for half an hour. For the entire 30 minutes, the researcher would record everything the elephant did, every interaction it had, and with whom, as well as the time at which it occurred. This gave me insight into typical behaviors of elephants. Drawing so many sketches of elephant ears made me able to identify a few elephants on my own by the end of my 2 weeks there because I became familiar with their ear patterns and their tusks. I also learned that protecting elephants is more than knowing the animal itself, but also knowing about international policy and relations to work with other countries against the ivory trade. Skills and knowledge of international relations is an increasingly critical component to protecting elephants and wildlife in general.
I have been to Save the Elephants three times: first as a visitor, next as a curious student, and most recently as an aspiring zoologist and conservationist. Each time I’ve gone, I have learned more about Africa’s majestic elephants and Save the Elephants’ heroic efforts to understand and protect them. Each time I’ve left, a bigger part of me has remained behind, dedicated to saving the elephants.
Although I have yet to discover what career I’ll pursue, I have learned where I belong. I belong under the hot Kenyan sun, surrounded by prickly acacia bushes and the endless desert-dry earth, and will one day return to study and protect those majestic elephants.
· Date: October 29, 2012 · Views: 2349 · File size: 149.9kb, 1182.5kb · : 1001 x 707 ·
Hours Volunteered: 84
Volunteers: 1
Authors Age & Age Range of Volunteers: 17
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