Thursday, November 3, 2011

Backwards hands

Hello all.
I would like to start my blog today talking about animal tracks. Specifically the animal tracks that I saw today.
The first was the tracks of the impala. They're pretty much just like deer tracks.
Next were the elephant tracks. Imagine a large dinner plate pushed into the soil, and that's what it looks like.
Giraffe tracks are like cow tracks, only two or three times larger.
Ostrich tracks are the most interesting. They are like mittens, almost as if someone with backward hands were wearing mittens and walking on said backward hands. If that makes any sense.
These tracks were seen while we were doing a field exercise, a rangeland assessment. The majority of land in Kenya is rangeland, though only 35% of the population lives there (this is growing with the population however). Why would only 35% of the population occupy the majority of the country? Because the rangelands have a very low carrying capacity. One of the assessment criteria was vegetation cover, and not once in any of our eight plots was vegetation cover (which was pretty much all dead) greater than at most 30%. Erosion was an obvious visible problem as well. Of course, the vegetation will be greater during the rainy season, but people, like most animals, have to survive the whole year, not just during the rainy season. Needless to say, at least in my groups transect (and most likely everyone else's) the rangeland was assessed as very poor. This is the land that the Kenyan population has to expand to, and that is set aside for wildlife conservation. So while it may look like a lot of land is set aside or managed for wildlife conservation, in effect the food biomass in that large area is extremely limited, limiting the effectiveness of the conservation. There's been a push, both by the World Bank and the Kenyan government, to get the Maasai, a traditional nomadic pastoral tribe, to become sedentary and commercialize their livestock production. This has failed horribly for several reasons. One is the fact that the rangeland, because of its poor quality, can only support a nomadic lifestyle, and a nomadic lifestyle is not very conductive to a market economy, especially when the people involved are most worried about subsistence. Another reason is the migration of agricultural tribes, such as the Kikuyu or the Kamba, into the region. They practice their traditional agriculture, which makes the poor soil even poorer, strains water resources due to the necessity of irrigation, and increases human-wildlife conflicts due to crop-raiding by wildlife. In short, although I think my last post may have about this (sorry if this bores you), the past and current plans for sustainable development in the area are not, themselves, sustainable, because of the area.

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