Wednesday, April 04, 2007

A Kenya Post

Right now (as I am sitting at work, so bad) I am formulating a background and introduction for my upcoming project about Nairobi National Park. The project itself should not be too difficult because it is completely theoretical, but when I think about its applicability, it seems almost completely irrational.

We (my partner, Katie, who rocks) are going to look at the fencing issue in NNP. Right now, it's surrounded by a fence on 3 sides. The issue is: should the fourth side be fenced? I honestly don't know. If you had asked me 3 years ago when I did my fieldwork there I would've said "um, sure, why not?" But now that I'm in grad school and have learned a lot more about carrying capacity, migration, biomass, biodiversity, productivity, and since revisiting Kenya during a period of severe drought (the rains were good when I did my fieldwork there, but that was the last time it was reported to have really "rained" - spring 2003) my answer would be "I have no idea."

In writing my intro and background there are about 1 million spinoff papers that you could write about the issues within the issues. Another thing for me is that unlike some of my peers, I don't see this as a strictly animal vs. people issue. I understand people need the park's resources (to a certain degree) and live within the ecosystem and dispersal area - will exclusion from the park by fencing kill people? or their livelihood? I don't know, but if it does, would we want to do that? No. I wouldn't. But will keeping the park open on the southern border lead to the death of the park itself and its species? Maybe. I definitely don't want that to happen. But what if fencing the park causes greater loss than not fencing it? What if capacities go awry? What if there's an Allee effect or several Allee effects within populations and the fencing stops necessary migration for reproduction and local populations go extinct? That's bad too. Eeek, it's a quagmire....but it's one I love.

I don't know if anyone who visits Kenya would necessarily say that NNP is their favorite park. It's a bit small, it's near the city, years of burn suppression have made some of the grasslands look rather unappetizing. People like the grandeur of Kilimanjaro and Amboseli's elephants, the stark lava fields and green Chyulus of Tsavo and the sweeping savannas of the Mara. I love NNP and its scrappy existence, the clear perserverance of the park and its inhabitants in the face of adversity. Perhaps I'm biased - anyone spending nearly every day for 2 months there doing game surveys is bound to be - but I just can't get enough. I think I may have been most excited to go to NNP on our reunion trip. Maybe because I can still remember the roads with my eyes closed, maybe because it brought back the fondest memories of my days in Kenya - seeing a turaco in the forested area (I think this may still be the best bird I've ever seen. It was my ultimate bird! Whole other story for another time), getting mocked charged by buffalo with Sinnary, finding a python, peeing in the park during field research, spending a whole day looking for a herd of buffalo that Patrick "thought" he saw and never finding it, getting trapped in the river on the southern end of the park because we thought it was still OK to cross, encountering a monitor lizard while opening our "sneak" gate (the school had access to a special gate so we wouldn't have to drive all the way around to an official gate entrance), and all those lunches we spent high up on that promontory overlooking the park, joking with Otieno. While my most magical day was spent on Lake Naivasha, my best memories are my field days in NNP.

I think my attachment to the park is what is making this project difficult. I probably should've picked something I felt little attachment to, like the Ivory-billed woodpecker or something. I could've at least tolerated a theoretical project on that. With this, I type a sentence and delete it, thinking "that's not right." The perfectionist in me rears its ugly head and I find myself frustrated at the existence of a conflict because I want to solve it and satisfy everyone and have my project work perfectly - the crappy thing is that, even though it's theoretical, I already know our proposal probably wouldn't work in real life. Our proposal is to fortify the east west and northern fence borders in an effort to drive ungulates away from the immediate edges of the park. Then through land purchasing efforts and land-use compensation, create a larger corridor throughout the Kitengela dispersal area to allow for migration and wildlife movement, in hopes that the predators which depredate livestock will concentrate on the areas of high wildlife concentration and reduce the number of human-wildlife conflict. Sounds good, right? Sure. Is it good? Not enough, I'm afraid. What I will say though, is that everyone and everything has to start somewhere. Maybe this is just a start, and if this poster raises awareness among my peers of Kenya wildlife issues and makes just one scientist take an interest in Kenya, I suppose our project, however theoretical it may be, will be worth it.

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