Kenya has been a part of me since my first visit in 2003. It has been the single defining moment for my career. Without my trip to Kenya, and especially The School for Field Studies, I would never have become a scientist. This journey abroad reawakened my passion for animals, but most importantly allowed me to realize that I could study them for a career.
Before going to Kenya, I did not even understand what a wildlife biologist was. I knew Jane Goodall’s animal behavior research on chimpanzees well, but I also knew myself well enough to realize that I could not move to the rainforests of Tanzania permanently for science (I’m too social). By traveling thousands of miles away, I learned that I could study wildlife anywhere.
I did end up falling in love (easily) with Kenya and African wildlife. I returned to spend a year there as an intern with the School for Field Studies in 2005 and traveled throughout the country, as well as to parts of Tanzania (Zanzibar), Uganda, and Rwanda. This experience reassured me in my decision to pursue my Ph.D. From Kenya, I was always fascinated about the intricate social lives of savanna elephants, especially those studied for decades in Amboseli National Park by Cynthia Moss. As a student, I met a female researcher from the Amboseli Trust for Elephants and as she gave her lecture, she pointed out to us one of the named elephants she knew walking by in the distance. I largely used my experience in Kenya to develop my dissertation questions on the social lives of forest elephants in Gabon.
This expedition to Kenya is especially exciting and very special. I am part of a team, representing eMammal at the North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences, and working with colleagues at the Smithsonian Institution National Museum of Natural History and the National Museums of Kenya, that will be resurveying an expedition conducted by former President Theodore Roosevelt. The original survey was conducted a century ago. President Roosevelt was an outdoor enthusiast driven largely by his interest in hunting, and as a result traveled the world to hunt different exotic species. He conducted an expedition starting in 1909 with detailed recordings of the mammal species observed and collected. We are carefully reviewing those records and are following in his footsteps to complete the survey today. What species will we find? What’s still there? What’s missing? Are there new species?
Unlike Roosevelt, I won’t be hunting, but will instead cameras to “trap” animals that walk by with photography. This non-invasive method will actually result in better sampling of the mountain because it allows for continuous sampling through infrared motion-and-heat censored triggers and for many hundreds of simultaneous deployments (us humans cannot all be in the same place at the same time). We will be able to track the mammal communities as altitude increases and ecosystems change. Never before has such a detailed and thorough mammal survey been done of the mountain.
UPDATE: Roosevelt Resurvey has been postponed until potentially winter 2014.