An introduction with dung


Viraj Sikand, Local intern

Date Published

Hi, I’m Viraj, the new STE intern! I am currently on a gap year having deferred my entry to Brown University, USA, where I hope to major in Environmental Science. I have had a phenomenal gap year with a number of unique experiences, but nothing quite prepared me for the stunning beauty of Samburu.

On my first day, I accompanied Shifra, Jerenimo, Rebecca, Gabriella and Lunalo on an elephant survey out into the field. As we followed the Ewaso Nyiro River all kinds of animals emerged, from gerenuk to reticulated giraffe to oryx- each species so interesting and unique to Northern Kenya. But it was, predictably, the elephants that were particularly captivating. I was amazed as to how relaxed they all were: one elephant even fell asleep on the very bush it was eating from! These intelligent animals would calmly go about their business, occasionally lifting a trunk to the car as if to say “you’re still here?!”

Arapaho of American Indians having a quick snooze, her weight supported by the bush she was eating. Who knew feeding was so tiring?!

Never have I been so close to an elephant, and I learnt a great deal from the team as they identified and explained a little about each individual we encountered. Previously unnoticed miniature scars on ears gained newfound importance, as did fresh dung dropped by certain elephants.

Introducing me into the world of scatology, Shifra gave us a swift rundown on the rules of collecting poop (don’t touch with your finger, don’t use this kind of stick etc. etc.), and we quickly went to work on scraping the still-warm dung for intestinal mucus. This, it turns out, can be analyzed for DNA, and thus family trees and genotypes can be determined. Furthermore, and somewhat crucially, STE is collaborating with an American scientist so that in the inopportune event that an elephant is poached, found ivory can be traced back to the elephant population it came from.

After an eventful day, we returned to the camp for a delicious meal, a game of cards and a refreshing bucket shower. I suspect my time here at STE is going to pass by very, very quickly. I LOVE IT HERE!