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Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Sorry for the loooong delay between posts - as usual, time is flying by and keeping up this blog is sadly at the bottom of the priority list... But there have been lots of exciting happenings since late February, so I'm finally making time to let you know all know about them!

The first is that I'm no longer in Ethiopia. Before you start freaking out, it's not because of any unrest or problems of that nature (although Ethiopia did bomb Eritrea just before I left, which was worrisome) - it's because I was invited to be the teaching assistant for a Princeton undergrad class in Kenya! One of my advisors, Dan Rubenstein, is teaching a course called "The Natural History of African Mammals" here in the Laikipia district of Kenya. It's a three-week course that's part of a larger, semester-long series of courses based at Dan's field site (Mpala Research Centre - check it out at It's such a fabulous opportunity for me - I get to knock off a semester's worth of teaching requirements in three action-packed weeks on the savannah! And it's such a great course. It's a project-driven sort of set-up; the students do a series of small group projects over the course of the class. They start with project design, then do a few days of intense field work before analyzing their data and presenting their results to their classmates and other researchers at MRC. What a great experience for an undergrad!

We have been here a week now, and the first batch of projects are just finishing up. The first round of presentations will be tomorrow evening, so everyone is crunching data and starting on analyses today. We had four projects in this round, with 2-4 students per project. The one that I helped out was really cool - we are looking at the effects of bomas (cattle corrals) on land usage by wildlife. We had 8 sites, which varied in how long they were used (short - 1-2 weeks, long - 1+ year) and in how long they had been lying fallow (short - 6 months to a year, long - 2 years). We did vegetation transects inside the bomas as well as at 50m and 150m out from the boma, dung counts to look at long-term wildlife use, and camera trapping to look at active, recent use. The students got a chance to learn quite a few field methods over the course of the last week, and I think we're going to get some interesting results! Right now, the students are going through their camera trap data, and already we've caught some neat wildlife - hyenas, giraffes, elephants, zebra, several antelope species, and even a porcupine! Very exciting.

It's amazing how different this place is from my field site in Ethiopia. It's so luxurious!! Hot showers, chefs to prepare food, room stewards to do our laundry and make our beds, an incredible intellectual community of researchers, students and postdocs to bounce ideas off of, internet access, flush toilets.... WOW! I do miss the peace and quiet of the Simien Mountains though, as well as the down-time (and of course, my geladas!). It seems like there is always something going on here! If it's not work (which takes up most of my time), it's a game night or a wildlife viewing opportunity or a conversation that was supposed to take 5 minutes but ends up last for an hour because you end up talking about your research.... Gone are the days of relaxing in the afternoons after work! But I really can't complain - this is such an amazing community and a truly special experience. I recently learned how to drive a manual transmission car with my left hand (and on the wrong side of the road!) and have been enjoying driving my students around in the field. The wildlife here is spectacular - Grevy's and Plains zebra, elephants, giraffes, dikdik, impala, Grant's and Thompson's gazelles, eland, oryx, warthogs, ostrich, waterbuck, Greater kudu, spotted and striped hyena....amazing! And last night a lion walked by my room! I didn't actually see it but I heard it growling and the security staff confirmed this morning that it was in fact a lion..... Crazy!

On Friday, we'll head to Ol Pejeta. Ol Pej is a nature conservancy in this same part of Kenya, but with a slightly different ecosystem and consequently different wildlife. It's got the highest predator density in the area, so we're expecting to see lions and cheetahs as well as the usual African fauna. Should be a lot of fun!

I won't have internet in Ol Pej, but I'll try to update this again when we get back! The news from gelada land is that there's been some rain (yay!) and quite a few takeovers (possibly yay, depends on if it makes my older male juveniles disperse or not - the last set of takeovers in the fall did, so I'm hoping that will happen again). Two of my favorite male geladas, Quinn and Dikos, got taken over by unknown bachelors last week. :( I'm hoping the two former leaders can stick around to protect their kids! It's hard not being up with my monkeys when all this drama is going on....

That's the news from here! hopefully things are going well with all of you guys. Looking forward to being back in America in May!