Thursday, April 19, 2012

Final day of Data Collection

Tomorrow is our final day of data collection.  After over 200 surveys in just 7 days, our team of seven are admittedly pretty excited about never having to staple and interview again.
Vervet monkey
   Well, at least in the case of this semester's environmental policy research.  I'm sure that I'll see more surveys in my time, as well as research and field work.  And don't get me wrong, I woke up every morning rearing to head out and talk to folks.  To give you an idea, I was so enamored with meeting people that, even though we left each day before the sun rose every morning, I was probably beaming enough light from my own excited person to light all of Kimana Group Ranch.
   While our research is directed beneath the category of environmental policy, each of my group members has a specific focus for our final papers and presentations.  Some are focusing on alternative agricultural practices, others are looking at human-wildlife conflict causation and prevention.
   My personal focus is on human livelihood under current land use/tenure/management policy and procedural structures for the area.  Or, in less-boring layman's terminology, I'm looking to see how easy/difficult it is to make a suitable living while adhering to the current laws that concern natural resources, land, and wildlife.
   Many people, including myself, forget that the animals that farmers and pastoralists have to deal with each day are quite larger and closer than animals in the U-S-of-A.  While we do have wild pigs, coyotes, and gofers of such-like, people here are always dealing with giraffe, aggressive buffalo, large groups of zebras, and elephants.  A single elephant can destroy several acres of farmland in one night.
Corn field damaged by elephants the night before.
   While I adore and appreciate the wildlife, there's little or no benefit for locals.  It is such the case that many here cannot even afford to visit their own national parks and sanctuaries, because they cannot afford to.  Only tourists and travelers can, which I find silly.  At home I visit parks all of the time with family and friends.  And it saddens me to think that folk here only see wildlife when on their property, or harming their livestock.    Although, one father of four said that he enjoyed the animals, because his children always found them wonderful to see.

There are some common things that come up during every conversation with the residents in Kimana/Kuku/Kilimanjaro region:

  1. Elephants are the most destructive, and can hurt people.
  2. There is never enough water, whether it's for farming, animals, or the household.
  3. Companies that buy crops from farmers here often utilize fraudulent practices, leaving farmers without pay.
  4. Locals recommend that all wildlife be contained in the parks by electric fencing, and if they enter property then they should be allowed to kill the animal (it is currently against the law to kill/injure wildlife here in Kenya)
What many here do not understand (and I only had a small understanding until this semester) is that the wildlife also do not get enough food/water, and some animals are naturally migratory and need to move.  Wildebeest that are contained within parks die because they migrate constantly.
   Also, elephants move around not only for food and living space, but because if they remain in one area they develop severe depression.  This is because an elephant's memory is notoriously long, and one thing they never forget are places where family members have died.  When ever they pass a location that a loved member of their family had died, no matter how many years it has been, they stop to mourn their lost loved-one.  So, if they can't move, they are constantly surrounded by grave sites and sad memories.  It's a powerful notion.  Just think of what it would be like to lose a mother/father/sibling/child in your own home, and you were unable to leave the house ever.  It's a painful thought to contemplate.
   My hope is, by the end of the research, I'll have a better notion of living practices here, and be able to suggest new ideas to help both the locals as well as the animals, and those in the political-department.  If anything, I'll leave here with a better understanding of life here in southern Kenya, and the wonderful hardworking individuals who call the area "home."

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