Biologist, Conservationist, & Portlander. My passion lives in Africa.

Sunday, March 23, 2014

A look back.

7:08 PM Posted by Tara Easter 1 comment
On my way back home to the USA, I reflected on my time in Kenya with the Elephants and Bees Project and Save The Elephants...

That was the craziest, most random, and challenging adventure I've ever had in my life. The majority of my time there, I had no idea what I was doing! Yet, here I am, almost four months later leaving behind the official Elephants and Bees Research Center. 

How strange is it that I now intimately know every employee at a hardware store in Voi, and that I have avoiding potholes in the dirt road to Mwakoma down to a science? I ate ugali and skuma wiki with my hands. I washed clothes with a scrub brush and bathed out of a bucket. I named elephants and wrangled with bees and tried my best to learn a bit of Swahili. I routinely shared tea with people who have completely different backgrounds and perspectives than I.

I helped build a research center that aims to reduce human-elephant conflict in the Tsavo ecosystem.

My experiences in Kenya will never be fully understood by folks back home, nor am I returning with a picture perfect album of African savannas full of the big five (although Tsavo was beautiful). My conservation work in the community was something that can never be taught in a classroom, and the lessons I learned along the way were quite a bit more difficult than I imagined. It takes a great deal of patience and understanding to live and work to conserve in a traditional village like Mwakoma, but the people are eager to learn, if you're willing to teach.

That is why I am so excited about this center. Along with attracting scientists from around the globe to use Sagalla as their base for research (I myself hope to return as a graduate student), it also functions as a local resource for environmental education. Further understanding of ecological and agricultural principles could make a huge difference in the food security in this area, as well as increase their beehive occupancies and honey production of our beehive fence farmers.

I temporarily leave the center with confidence. An intensive pollination study is just getting started at the same time that Lucy and Joseph conduct their playback research on the Tsavo elephants. My friends and co-interns are working out ways to better predict when hives are ready for harvest and change the attitudes communities have towards wildlife, and new inquiries for volunteers, students, and interns are beginning to come in. We've had visitors such as Iain Douglas-Hamilton and Fritz Vollrath, the Zoological Society of London and the Tsavo Trust, and I predict more will come. I see huge potential in this center, and I cannot wait to see how it progresses. 

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

A love note to Portland.

11:36 AM Posted by Tara Easter 2 comments
When I boarded the plane to leave Namibia summer after my sophomore year, I cried. Never before had I been to a place so wild. I thought - this is it. I've found where I am meant to be the rest of my life. I belong in Africa.

But as I sit here in Kenya, I find myself feeling somehow guilty for not having that same feeling of wanting to live here forever. I realize, of course, that some things were different on my Namibia trip. Life was certainly much easier, with the study abroad itinerary, camp helper, driver, and cook, but it was more than just the ease of living that filled my heart. I went rock climbing, quadbiking, and animal tracking. I got charged by elephants, swam with seals, and kayaked with dolphins. I braved waters that mix with Antarctic currents, and camped in the oldest desert on Earth. And, most importantly, I formed some of the best friendships of my life.

So when I came back to the suburbs of North Carolina, I felt lost and empty. At the time, I didn't know the U.S. could hold wild places that would give me the same sense of pride and fulfillment. I didn't know I could feel so complete in a civilization so tame. Now, I am proud to call Portland, OR my home, and a little scared by how much I miss it. For the first time in my life, I'm homesick. I look back through pictures and show everyone in Kenya and say, "That's my home!" It's where I can go skiing, and cliff jumping, and mountain climbing, and spelunking, and windsurfing, and critter searching. It's where I'm surrounded by people fighting to protect the beautiful places we still have in America. It's where I can save the world and enjoy it too. And, it's where I've made some wonderful friends and can enjoy a good [cold] beer with them.

There are some things I haven't missed: the need to post to Instagram the moment something cool is happening, the distraction of TV shows from being productive, and how ridiculously expensive fresh produce is.  But I still find myself longing for Mt. Hood and dream of the Gorge. It's not that I haven't enjoyed my time here. I am still ever passionate for all things Africa, and of course, the elephants. The opportunities that have come my way through this internship are endless, and the experience unforgettable. I plan on staying connected to Save The Elephants and all they do as much as I can. 

Conservation work in Africa will always hold a special, uniquely wild place in my heart, but Portland has helped me realize that I don't have to pitch a tent in a third world country to feel complete. And tweaking my dream a bit doesn't make me weak, either. It just means ... I want it all! I want to live in a city full of culture and life, minutes away from untouched wilderness, and have the option to travel all over the world - working to protect multiple things I care about, not just one species or group. If scuba diving with giant manta rays on vacation and coming face to face with a protective matriarch for work give me the same thrill and inspire the same actions, that's ok. It's only now, after working on an incredible project in Kenya for 3 months and being less than 2 weeks away from returning home that I realize that I can have it all.

So, thank you, PDX, for inspiring me to reach further and showing me how to live happier.

"... and I miss you; I'm going back home to the West coast..."

Sunday, March 2, 2014

Finally - we're in!

2:12 AM Posted by Tara Easter 1 comment

As I write this post I am sitting on a couch, in an office, with desks, electricity, shelves, and SPACE... That's right; we are officially moved in to the Elephants and Bees Research Center! It is so exciting to have a defined work space, a place to slump (looking at you, couch, my love) and to have our little 3m x 4m kitchen return to being just a kitchen.

But more importantly than our own comfort, we can finally start using the center as it's meant to be used. We had our first official meeting last week with all of our beehive fence farmers. They are, after all, where the Elephants and Bees Project began, and they are why we have this research and community center now. We wanted to make sure they knew that this is a place to call their own - to have meetings, borrow equipment, learn about the environment, process honey, and do whatever else the center may be a host for.

We also discussed the purpose of our research at the center: to make their lives a bit easier. We will all learn together how to improve the beehive fences, get more bee occupations, produce more honey, and help each other out with any problems along the way. 

Lucy explaining our honey harvesting schedule