Saturday, January 16, 2010

[Tanya] Counting sheep

Going to Ol’ Pejeta is a coveted resource. On Thursday Habiba, Andrew, and Albert took a break from the sheep and went with Mayank, Dan, and Qing. They saw two baby lions with their mother eating a warthog. Yesterday Caitlin, Ipek, and Ian joined the zebra crew but they were not so lucky. No number of zebras, impala, Grant’s gazelles, waterbuck, warthog, rhinos, baboon, monkeys, buffalo, or giraffes could make up for the absence of felines. Hopefully, they will see some on Monday, when we all go.

In the meantime, I joined the sheep crew on Thursday. I watched Caitlin, Ipek, and Khairi put on the GPS collars on our very own herd of 19 sheep (with some lambs). Each sheep has a number painted in blue on each side, for easy counting. “One sheep, two sheep, three sheep…” Well, not counting but identifying each individual sheep so we know which GPS belongs to which individual and from day to day, which individual sheep interacts with which other. There are flies and ticks all over. The process goes much faster now, on the fifth day of data collection. On the first day, Monday, it was sheep wrestling, stressful, rechecking of whether GPS were turned on, realizing that the casing that comes with them is not rugged enough to withstand sheep wear. At one point there were 7 people on one sheep: two holding it down, two putting zip-ties on the GPS, one clipping the zip ties off, and two writing down the numbers. The boma (the area where the herders live and keep animals) women and children were standing in a group watching the whole process and laughing. It was funny, in retrospect.

But on Thursday things went smoothly: in under 15 minutes we are done. Then Ipek watches the sheep behavior, especially instances of leadership, Caitlin counts the grazing rate and samples the vegetation. The pin drop vegetation sampling goes as follows: Khairi drops a metal wire stick sticking into the ground, Caitlin counts the number of leaves and stems touching it, and I write it down. Sheep graze. It’s hot, the day goes slowly, nothing happens, we follow the sheep, observe, measure, wait. And then we see a group of about 20 giraffes on a slope in the distance. Two males are fighting by swinging their necks. It looks brutal. We cheer and then it’s noon: time to get back fro lunch, yeah!

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