EARTHWATCH INSTITUTE EDUCATION FELLOWSHIP
My Experience as an Earthwatch Fellow on an
Expedition in Samburu, Kenya - January 2005
In January 2005, I joined a zebra research team for a 13-day expedition to study an endangered species of zebra. Ford Motor Company and Rhode Island College sponsored my participation in this Earthwatch Institute expedition to the Samburu district in central Kenya.
An international team of five Earthwatch volunteers and I received on-site training from research scientists affiliated with Lewa Wildlife Conservancy, National Museum of Kenya, and Princeton University. We assisted the researchers by monitoring populations of Grevy is zebras and other wildlife and by helping with duties including observing zebra behaviors and data entry.
Competition for food and water is a critical factor of survival in the semi-arid savannah. Scientists are trying to understand how food and water is consumed by wildlife and livestock. The most memorable part of the trip was the experience of observing wildlife at a water hole from a blind for six consecutive hours. I was impressed with how close we were to large animals--less than 20 yards from an elephant, water bucks, and elands, the largest antelope.
I witnessed first-hand how research scientists partnered with local educators and other community members to solve environmental problems. I observed "citizen science" in action. Samburu women are hired to record weather data in the encampments and men guide research teams to the zebra and help monitor the populations.
Also, research scientists offer community meetings to share research results and offer conservation lessons to children in primary schools. Sometimes community meetings are held under the shade of a tree. The information is translated into three languages: English, Kswahili, and Samburu. Building awareness and engaging the local community in long-term strategies will lead to improved coexistence of humans and wildlife and stability and growth of Grevy's zebra population.
Results of scientific research indicate that fewer than 2,500 Grevy's zebras exist. The declining populations of zebras are located mostly in Kenya, Somalia, and eastern Ethiopia. About 600 are found in zoos around the world. Several factors contributing to the decline of Grevy's zebra include competition with livestock for food and water resources, habitat loss and degradation, and predation. Conservation and management strategies include increasing protected area, working with pastoralists to provide access to critical water and food resources, especially lactating females and their foals, and negotiating with agriculturalists to decrease water extraction for irrigation.
Upon my return, I developed a 2006 CD size calendar to raise $3,500 for the Earthwatch Community Fund for Kenya. The calendar includes color photos from the January 2005 expedition and inspirational environmental quotes. Proceeds will go to Earthwatch Community Fund for Kenya to address primary needs for water, education, health facilities, and wildlife conservation. To see images of the calendar, click on Calendar Images.
Earthwatch Institute is a world leader in the field of experiential education providing opportunities in the field and on-line for volunteers to broaden their understanding of sustainability and support conservation research. There is no experience necessary to be involved and hundreds of teams worldwide that need support. Visit http://www.earthwatch.org or call 800-776-0188 for more information.
Earthwatch's mission is to engage people worldwide in scientific field research and education to promote the understanding and action necessary for a sustainable environment.
In 2005, Earthwatch Institute will sponsor over 125 projects in 49 countries and 15 U.S. states, making estimated volunteer field grants of $4 million. Since its founding in 1971, this international nonprofit volunteer organization has mobilized over 2,900 projects in 118 countries and 36 states. More than 65,000 volunteers have contributed over $53 million and 10 million hours to essential fieldwork.
Earthwatch-sponsored research covers a broad range of disciplines from archaeology to zoology, from biodiversity to international health. The research division receives roughly 400 proposals each year from scholars with labor-intensive research in need of funds and volunteer assistance. Projects for support are chosen by independent peer review. Results of projects are published in hundreds of scholarly journals worldwide. Find past grant recipients, application guidelines at http://www.earthwatch.org/research.
Sound science must underlie effective conservation. The Conservation Program at Earthwatch sponsors multi-disciplinary research projects in some of the world's critical regions of biodiversity, establishing strategic international partnerships. http://www.earthwatch.org/conservation
Through participation in field science, teachers learn the scientific process by doing science. Every year, over 350 of teachers and students receive career training and inspiration on expeditions. Earthwatch Fellowships, funded by individuals, foundations and corporations, range from teaching live from the field, through the latest communications technology, to a program supported by the National Geographic Education Foundation to improve the quality of geography education. The African Fellowship Program has enabled over 600 scientists, teachers and conservation leaders to gain professional development on projects. More info, and applications found at http://www.earthwatch.org/education.
In 2004, almost 4,000 volunteers hailed from 49 U.S. states and 83 countries. Volunteer teams are intergenerational. 16% of volunteers are under 23 (minimum age is 16); 50% are 23-49; 34% are over 50 years old. They include professional, students, educators, managers/administrators, scientists, engineers, computer workers, artists, writers and retirees. One third of Earthwatch Institute volunteers each year are returning volunteers, and several have worked on over 50 projects.
Earthwatch team members share the costs of research expeditions and cover food and lodging expenses with a pro-rated contribution. 2004 expedition costs range from $800 to over $3,500, averaging $1,850 for 1-3 week team duration. No prior skills are required (except scuba certification for diving projects); however, many volunteers do bring professional or vocational skills to aid the fieldwork.
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The Earthwatch Institute web site encompasses over 3,000 pages of in-depth project descriptions, expedition briefings, photos, news releases, and educational resources.
The organization is aided by a network of over 169 Field Representatives in 43 US states and Canada. These veteran Earthwatch volunteers organize events and educational outreach, working toward the institute's goal of building an engaged citizenry. Field Representatives are listed at http://www.earthwatch.org/aboutew/fieldreps.html
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