At 8 o’clock we were supposed to meet the elders of nearby families. As they were suddenly detained, we instead heard of the wonderful medicinal uses of ricin plant, and also of its horrific purposes in the biological warfare. We also had the chance to see the Taita White-eye Zosterops poliogaster ssp. silvanus, wonderful little bird endemic to Taita Hills and Mt. Kasigau.
First stop of the day, sisal-plantation was a nation of its own: in the middle of its fields there was a small village with all the social facilities including post, school and church for the workers. The plantation indeed provides its workers with economical sustainability and security, perhaps thus discouraging them from leaving. We met with the son of the manager, Jason Collette, who gave us a comprehensive tour of the premises. He told us that we were on the largest sisal plantation in the world, employing 2000 workers and providing housing for 5000 people altogether. One of the themes of our field course, water balance and land use changes in Taita Hills, were brought up. Mr Collette had also noticed the dwindling of the water resources in the past 17 years. Nowadays the farm has started to rely on wells over 200 m deep. The tour on the sisal fiber factory was very informative and included a fiber treatment waste pile that had been burning for over 30 years, and a factory tour. The waste pile boasted a quite wide range of interesting birds, for example a Spur-Winged Lapwing, Vanellus spinosus. Lastly, we discussed the GIS-applications that could benefit the plantation and how the University could use the plantation in their calibrations.
We drove to the Sagala lodge, where there were German termite specialists and a pool. After a quick poolside refreshment, we learned about the whistling acacias. Ants might be the ones making these trees whistle, thus telling the herbivores to stay away. This adds to the interesting symbiosis of the plant and its keepers. We also learned about the newest advancements in bee-keeping and social patterns of bees and termites, and visited a termite nest. From the tree on the lodge’s yard watched us a delightful White-bellied Go-away-bird, Corythaixoides leucogaster.
Our last stop was a visit to the Wildlife Works station. Established in 1997, Wildlife works is a part of the REDD-project in Kenya, which aims to reduce emissions from deforestation and degradation. They wish to achieve this by consumer-powered conservation methods. Gaining funds by selling carbon credits, they use the money to reduce harmful charcoal burning in the area, while also providing safe passage for the elephants to pass from Tsavo West National park to Tsavo East. They are also included in guarding the forests and providing work for the women of the area. They also provide education for all age groups and seek to entice the community by participatory projects, such as theatre, sports and community meetings. Our group was very enthusiastic supporting their cause when visiting the Wildlife Works factory gift-shop. Our group was also enthralled about d’Arnaud’s barbet, Trachyphonus darnoudii.
Inka Voutilainen & Joona Koskinen