Citizen Science gets another big boost in Laikipia – with kids leading the way!
Kids from Nairobi and Laikipia got a great chance to participate in an exciting wildlife research project. On Saturday the 5th of March, a diverse group of school kids contributed to the changing face of conservation education and learning in Laikipia by joining scientists to study the population of giraffe in Laikipia.
The event, dubbed the Kids Twiga Tally Challenge, engaged the helping hands of 70 school children to take pictures of giraffes within Laikipia at Mpala and Ol Jogi Conservancies, in an attempt to count them by identifying each individual. The cameras that the children used are equipped with Image Based Ecological Information System (or IBEIS) software, which cleverly identifies animals’ markings; much like a fingerprint scanner would identify a person.
The creator of this technology, Dr. Daniel Rubenstein, is a professor of ecology at Princeton University. He teaches regularly about mammal ecology at the Mpala Research Centre in Laikipia. Dr. Rubenstein and the Grevy Zebra Trust joined together with conservation partners in Northern Kenya to gather data on Grevy’s Zebra (and used it successfully with the help of the local community in the Great Grevy’s Rally in January 2016). It was this previous success that led researchers to plan the giraffe count. The count aims to answer a fundamental question: are giraffe numbers and the social composition of giraffe groups different on conservancies than on group ranches, and why?
The Kids Twiga Tally Challenge came to fruition through the energy and commitment of several different groups and individuals. Dr. Paula Kahumbu, director of Wildlife Direct and NTV Wild, was deeply involved, speaking to the children at the start of the day in order to engage them and prepare them for what they were being asked to do. Dr. Dino Martins, a committed naturalist and the director of Mpala Research Centre, was also instrumental in organizing the event. The Laikipia Wildlife Forum, a major supporter of the Great Grevy’s Rally, also supported the Laikipia primary school kids’ participation. NTV covered the event for public television.
Further engendering the “citizen science” approach to learning, Laikipia Wildlife Forum’s main aim with the Twiga Challenge is to promote Laikipia as a safe and fun learning environment for students and their families. In keeping with its Wild Class program for conservation education, LWF believes that Laikipia is a perfect ‘natural classroom’ because of its high concentration of species as well as its unique local communities committed to conserving them. The Twiga Challenge presents the perfect opportunity to engage Kenyan children in major wildlife research questions, and to help them have fun and learn at the same time. The results of this work could help us to manage our conservancies better for reticulated giraffes.
Estimates put the population of giraffe in Africa at less than 80,000 individuals across all subspecies. The reticulated giraffe of Laikipia belong to a population that used to roam Somalia, Southern Ethiopia, and Northern Kenya. Their population is now estimated be less than 7,500 individuals.
Several schools attended the event, representing children from various geographical, economic and cultural backgrounds in Kenya. Each bus that went out to photograph the giraffe contained carefully mixed groups of children, connecting many of them for the first time. Some children had never set foot outside of Nairobi, let alone seen wildlife, such as the Kibera Girls School. Others, such as Mpala Academy, have had the Laikipia landscape as their campus, yet have never had the opportunity to learn about it in such a unique way. Each school was accompanied by an enthusiastic teacher who prepared them with questions as well as specific goals to attain from the experience.
LWF will continue to organize Wild Class and citizen science events as part of its new conservation education programming and partnership with membership conservancies. The Kids Twiga Tally Challenge was just another project in collaboration with the Mpala Research Centre.
Stay tuned for the results of the Kids Twiga Tally Challenge in our next issue!
Primary Schools that attended the Kids Twiga Tally Challenge were: Ndururi Primary School, Kibera Girls School, Brookhouse Academy, St. Christopher’s (Nanyuki), Mpala Academy, Kimanjo Primary, and Ol Gaboli.