Snapshot Serengeti – Join in the fun of some citizen science!

Screen shot 2012-12-13 at 2.54.39 PMA new citizen science project has been launched by the folks at the Serengeti Lion Project and the University of Minnesota. Called “Snapshot Serengeti,” it calls on anyone with an internet connection to help identify wildlife in millions of images caught on hundreds of camera traps stationed throughout Serengeti National Park. Graduate student Ali Swanson teamed up with Zooniverse to create the project. The ultimate goal is to determine how species interact (and avoid each other) in space and time across the landscape, in order to answer fundamental questions about the community ecology of the Serengeti. More immediately, though, the project is all about getting YOU involved in some cool science by helping the researchers get through all of the images and record all of the data!

We have already spent some time on the site classifying the wildlife, and it is incredibly addictive! The website is very user-friendly and you can ask questions if you need to. You have no idea what could come up on the next image, and you feel like you are on a virtual safari in the Mara or Serengeti as you move from photo to photo. So far we have identified lions, hyenas, cheeetahs, porcupines, giraffes, gazelles, hartebeest, impalas, a zillion zebras and gnus, and even a hippo!

So wherever you are over the holidays, take a virtual trip to the Serengeti and start classifying! Who knows what you will find!

For more information, here are the links:

Snapshot Serengeti


Lion Research Center

And here are a couple of news stories:

BBC Nature News (Dec 13)

Scientific American (Dec 12)


Screen shot 2012-12-13 at 2.23.23 PM




A day with the Maasai community near Amboseli National Park

The Ngararambuni Nursery School.

The Ngararambuni Nursery School.

The Ngararambuni Nursery School barely appears out of the thick grey volcanic dust of Mt Kilimanjaro, less than 10 miles southwest of Amboseli National Park. If you didn’t already know it was there, you would easily drive by and miss it. Yet as we get closer, we can see dozens of Maasai children aged 2-10 sitting quietly on five crooked wooden benches placed under the scant shade of a single acacia tree, all of them sort of enclosed by a low ramshackle boma (bush fence). The children watch us drive up and tumble out of our Land cruisers. We wander into the boma and join everyone under the tree, are introduced to Joyce, the head teacher, and then the quiet ends  as we are engulfed in song….

The only nursery school for miles, Ngararambuni is supported entirely by safari guests. Here, the local children learn Swahili and English, basic math, and some geography – instead of spending all of their days herding livestock. Joyce runs a very tight ship, and their time at Ngararambuni prepares the children for primary school. Although the school is minimalist in many ways, it is a true grass-roots community project, and provides what is needed for young learners facing a rapidly changing world at their doorstep.

Through Ker & Downey and The Kenya Wildlife Trust, safari profits pay for the teachers’ salaries, food, books and learning materials, and basic infrastructure and repairs. We also visit the school whenever Amboseli is on the safari itinerary. Our guests are always smitten with the show that the kids put on for us, and nobody can resist joining in the singing, dancing, and footballing.

Ngararambuni is a very special place for us and many of our guests, as Ker & Downey guides have had a relationship with the local community for over 40 years. For us it is even more personal, as this is where Solomon ole Lenkaja – our spotter and Maasai liaison – is from. Solomon was actually a teacher at the school before he came to work with us, and several of his own children now attend Ngararambuni. A respected elder in the community, Solomon is instrumental in reinforcing the connections between safari tourism, wildlife conservation, cultural traditions, and education in the area.

During our stay in the area, the nursery school is just one stop during a full day of Maasai culture and activities. We often visit the new Embaragoi Primary School (also assisted by K&D and KWT), and several of our recent guests have organized significant donations of books, games, and sports equipment to the schools. We spend time at Solomon’s house, and meet his extended family and learn all about the traditional Maasai way of life. In the afternoon, the community descends on our camp for the “Maasai Olympics,” which includes spear and club throwing competitions, tug-of-war, and running races – after everyone dons their war paint, of course! We finish the day with drinks and traditional dancing on top of the hill next to camp, and see if any of our guests can jump higher than a Maasai warrior in the shadow of Kilimanjaro.

For many of our guests this day is the most meaningful of their safari: we are looking forward to sharing this experience with a new family on Christmas Eve!