A week with the Samburu Producers


Lunalo Cletus National Intern. The University Of Nairobi

Date Published

Viraj and I arrived at the camp on Wednesday night at 9pm on one month and two weeks internships respectively. We are assisting Bernard collect data on the various plants in the reserve in the hope of developing a GIS map of all the vegetation in the area. This will be a rare kind of map in this region and will be useful in correlating the distribution of elephants with regards to the availability of certain plants and their location. By also using the GIS image we can track spatial and temporal variations in the vegetation of the reserve over a period of time. This will be helpful when estimating the human footprint in the reserve. We divided the reserve into six plots based on the soil types like red soils, white or volcanic soils. We usually drive around looking for a suitable area and sometimes this entails going out of the marked paths, maneuvering through rocks and dense thorny vegetation. But thanks to Bernard’s incredible driving skills these huddles have not impaired our research.

Once we locate our area we first describe the general characteristics of that place. This includes noting down the nature of the soil, shrubs and the dominant tree in that area. As rule of thumb, the dominant tree is the tree with the highest population in the sampling area. Stating the dominant isn’t mandatory but it just helps us make our work easier so that we don’t have to sample that particular tree species. We have so far conducted four plots all located on the northern side of the reserve. In half of these plots Acacia thompsonii was dominant and Acacia refecien in the other. We then embark on getting the GPS points of each tree species in that area .One of us notes down the name of the tree and the GPS point. To avoid redundancy Bernard keeps track of our movements using the GPS.This is also vital as we can also use the GPS route to map onto the GIS program. This will show the routes we used and each of the tree species we marked on the computer. By playing around with the various bandwidths we can tell the computer the identity of the tree species we marked and it can automatically identify such other trees in the rest of the reserve. Apart from the trees we also identify significant landmarks like anthills and stones in the sampling plot.

The work requires excellent knowledge of plants especially in taxonomy. Fortunately Bernard happens to know most of the tree species in their scientific names and if not, in his native Samburu language. After finishing our plot for the day we usually look for a nice spot and enjoy some crunchy biscuits as we enjoy the marvelous scenery. The many plants that we have interacted with have important uses. For example, Commiphora africana is used to make chewing gum while the bark of Acacia nilotica when boiled can relieve joint pains .Do you experience lack of appetite or have indigestion problems? If so then this is a must drink for you! Grewia tenax on the other hand produces edible fruits that taste like groundnuts.Salvadora persica which is found near our camp can make a good toothbrush and you won’t need toothpaste! Bernard has told us that a toothbrush from its roots can last two years! Apart from sampling trees we also get a chance to enjoy some exciting wild animals – like the seldom seen leopard on top of a tree enjoying its catch!

While in the camp we usually spend our evenings climbing the hill near our tent, watching wildlife documentaries and playing cards. Viraj introduced us to this work out programme that is so exhausting and we all have taken it up as a daily routine just to maintain fitness. Sunday was a bit unusual because Samburu lodge clinic was on fire in the afternoon. We were heading to the rangers office when we saw this huge cloud of smoke towering above their camp. Jerenimo and I went to assist in quelling the fire. Luckily no one was hurt in the fire. Kudos to the quick response from the workers of the lodge. Apart from this incident Samburu is amazing and I can’t wait for the next week to start!

Lunalo, Viraj, and Bernard