But at Mpala, he said, the opportunities transcend the natural and social sciences. As in other regions, the division of land, land use change, and the growth in human settlement has made it increasingly difficult for pastoralists — who have grazed for several hundred years — to find space in many parts Kenya.
This growth in human population and livestock has resulted in the remaining lands being overgrazed; coupled with changing climate pastoralists are facing challenging times. There’s a growing desire to understand how these dynamics affect the land — and to identify conservation and land use strategies that allow everyone
to stay on these landscapes.
“In addition to being a fantastic place to do research, this region can expose students to these long-term conflicts that are going on all over the world,” Burke said. “There are great opportunities for students to be working on real, tractable problems.”
In fact, it’s an area in which Yale adds an important element, Schmitz says. “They typically don’t have the opportunity to work closely with the economists, social ecologists, and other kinds of students that we have in this school who are already thinking about these things and could bring a wonderful dimension to the conservation question,” he said.
The benefits can work both ways, added Helen Gichohi
, a Kenyan ecologist and former president of the African Wildlife Foundation.
“Kenya's conservation sector requires strong partners to bring rigor to applied wildlife conservation and land management research,” said Gichohi, who recently spent several months at Yale as the 2019 Dorothy S. McCluskey Visiting Fellow in Conservation at F&ES.
“A partnership with Yale, one of the top universities in the world, can only be a boon to the country's efforts to better manage its lands for integrated conservation and livestock use.”
uring a five-day visit in Mpala, the F&ES group was able to get into the field several times, examining the region’s soil and climate conditions and learning about some of the ongoing research projects (including one, on lion genetics, that involves one of Schmitz’s current students). They visited with ranchers and pastoralists, and enjoyed the region’s iconic wildlife.
During a hike up Mount Kenya, they were able to “geek out” on changes in ecosystems and plant species. “And most mornings before dawn, we went out on wildlife drives,” Burke says. “It was amazing.”
They also traveled to the Ol Pejeta Conservancy
, a nonprofit near the Mpala Ranch, where Burke and Lauenroth were able to observe grasslands similar to those they study in the American West.