Welcome to the Marine Mammal and wildlife Research and Community Development Expedition blog where you can keep up to date with all the happenings and information from Kenya

Friday, February 13, 2009

Our Week In Mahandakini In Pictures

Hi, it's Corti here, and last week I joined fellow staff member Matt and five of our intrepid expedition members on a journey through Tsavo West to one of our satellite communities of former wildlife paochers... this is the story of our week!

Mahandakini is a small rural village sandwiched between Tsavo West national park and Mt Kilimanjaro across the border in Tanzania. We were introduced to a community based organisation, the Mahandakini Youth Network for Animal Welfare and Rights, by the World Society for the Protection of Animals (WSPA) back in early 2007. WSPA supported the establishment of this group of former wildlife poachers to help tackle the bush meat trade and the illegal and inhumane killing of Tsavo's wildlife. For their part, the former poachers have been only too willing to leave poaching behind them, a dangerous livelihood that they felt forced in to by socio-economic pressures - quite simply, they didn't know how else to earn the money to feed their families in an area where unpredictable rains and crop damage by elephants can render subsistence farming ineffective in putting food on the table. Our task in supporting WSPA's objectives is to help the community find alternative ways to earn a living.

The journey to Mahandakini took us through Tsavo West national park and this time around, past four elephants feeding by the roadside:

On Monday the community members were busy collecting government food aid, making our mission of the week even more important - we were to work with the group in developing a strategy for their own community-based food security. The group want to raise funds to buy maize at low harvest-time prices and store it for tougher times when food scarcity drives the market price up, out of economic reach of many families. This is not for profit; the community group will then sell maize on at the original low price to ensure families can afford to feed themselves throughout the year.

On Tuesday we had the community group split in to two project teams, tackling their food security plan and their ideas for income generation - growing and processing cotton, a plant that fares well in the harsh conditions but for which there has been little market value recently. If they can raise funds for a workshop with spinning wheels and looms then with the training that Dishon has already received they can produce their own fabrics which will definitely have a market in the nearby trading town of Taveta.

In the afternoon we visited the nearby primary school at Chumvini to teach the standard 8 class - all 70 of them - about the bats in their nearby cave, with the hope that they will treat them with a bit more respect in future. It was a lot of fun and the message certainly got through to the class about how interesting and important bats can be:

Wednesday was a day off from work as we checked out some of the incredible local sights, starting with the stunning crater lake at Chala:

On to the bustle of Taveta market, then the cool (actually very cold!) peaceful Njoro springs for a refreshing swim, before passing through Ziwani Voyager tented camp for a cold beer by the hippo pool:

On Thursday we reconvened with the community groups and made real progress towards to outlining strategies to get both the food security and cotton production going - we have some work to do putting it all together as organised business plans but we believe we can get both initiatives up and running within in a few months with relatively little funding which we hope to source:

We finished the week planting trees, our contribution to improving their environment and with training that they have already received, a key ingredient for their home made neem soap. And throughout the week we were had one of Africa's most beautiful views right on out doorstep - Mt Kilimanjaro: