by Emily Myron -- July 4th, 2011
Catch phrase: Day 1, we were told it wasn’t a good idea to go walking in the Korongos – guess what we did today!
This past week has been a short summer camp hiatus – thus, it has been a bit more relaxing (though it’s all relative at this point). We have been working on several small projects this week, and then, after camp is over, we will begin working on larger projects in earnest. One of the main projects of the week was to drive all of the roads in Loibor Siret. We are in the process of creating a series of maps for the village that will include important roads, landmarks, and land uses. This will hopefully help the leaders of Loibor Siret better understand how to conserve and protect their natural resources.
East Africa has been experiencing years of drought, and, if I am not mistaken, in Somalia and parts of Ethiopia, this is the worst drought in 60 years. While conditions are not as dire down here in Tanzania, low rainfall has been affecting the nation. In Arusha, they have been experiencing lengthy power outages because electricity is based on hydro-power. Closer to home, the Maasai are dependent on water and grasses for their cattle. The Maasai have a long standing agreement that Maasai are one people and are able to move freely throughout Maasai land. Unfortunately, with the drought, this is creating some serious problems for the people of Loibor Siret. Maasai are coming from as far as Kenya to graze their cattle on our land and, last year, there was somewhere along the lines of 45,000 extra cattle in the peak of the dry season in the village. To make matters worse, the immigrants have been put in a part of the village that is an important rainwater catchment area for the Loibor Siret stream. We drove through the area today, and we could already see the desertification that is occurring with the pressure of additional cattle. This has huge implications for the village water supply, especially for this upcoming dry season. Right now, there are large meetings between many villages to decide on a common protocol to deal with the immigrants; however, Maasai decisions do not come quickly, so we will have to wait and see what will happen.
As you can see, water issues are a huge concern in Loibor Siret, which is why we spent this morning (Sunday morning) picking our way down one of the three feeder korongos for Loibor stream (a korongo is essentially a dry river bed, though I think it technically means ditch of ravine). The GIS data we obtain will be useful for the village maps and to help show village leaders why the area they are putting immigrants is such a crucial one. I found this exercise mildly humorous, though, because one of the first rules of ‘bush living’ we were told was to stay out of the korongos. They are shaded and cool; therefore, a lot of wildlife will spend the day hiding in korongos. Additionally, there is a leopard for korongo, and who knows what other predators frequent the area. Fortunately, we travelled in a large group, including a Maasai elder and a rifle (just in case). It’s pretty incredible – the Maasai can essentially feel when there is wildlife present, even if they cannot see it.
In some areas, we were down as far as 20 feet (like in the picture), but, in other areas, we were walking along at ground level. The substrate and vegetation was constantly changing, and we saw much evidence of animals spending time in the korongo. The closest we got to a big cat on the trip was footprints, but those were still very cool. For awhile, we were following the tracks of two lions, and then we came across the prints of a mother leopard and her cub. Footprint in Kiswahili is ‘nyaiyo’ (excuse the spelling), so we saw ‘nyaiyo ya simba na nyaiyo ya chui mtoto na mama.’ All in all, it was a really neat experience that we will be repeating as we try to map the stream network here.
In other news, our camera trap captured our first big cat! This picture is from about a quarter of a mile away from our camp, and we think it is a cheetah (based on its small head and sway back). Seeing as how some of TPW/APW’s projects are funded by the Big Cats Initiative, it is good to know we still have big cats in the area. We also tried to go lion tracking early one morning – no lions to be seen, but we did see an incredible sunrise backlighting a giraffe!