Thursday, July 14, 2011


    For the past 2 weeks I have been interning at the KSPCA (Kenyan Society for the Protection and Care of Animals -, which has been a truly unbelievable experience.  
     They have tons of animals including horses, donkeys, pigs, goats, dogs, and cats, and while the shelter has a nice piece of land (donated by a wealthy British family many years ago), they have many many animals (especially dogs) and are often subject to overcrowding.  Being in a developing country, there is an extreme overabundance of stray (and abused) animals seeing as pets are certainly not the norm.  While I know that issues with humans take precedence (especially in a developing country), it is still upsetting to see so many animals in such poor, abused conditions.  The KSPCA is making a remarkable effort though to help them and to change the way animals are treated in Kenya.  Here are a few pictures of some of the animals in the shelter right now waiting for homes (you can see the poor condition of the first 2 dogs that are relatively new to the shelter).

   While it was certainly difficult to see the sad conditions of so many animals, I also received SO much hands on experience while at the shelter (as you can imagine, there is not a lot of liability at a Kenyan animal shelter so they really let me do a lot).  I was able to be the veterinarian's primary surgical assistant and scrubbed in for surgery every day (on average we did about 8 spays and 8 neuters every day).  The vet let me make the incisions, stick my hands inside the animals' abdomens to search for the ovaries/uterus, snip things, do the stitches, etc.  It was really unbelievable!  I also conducted several vaccine clinics where we would administer 50+ vaccines in one day (to both animals at the shelter and animals in the surrounding towns).  After so many years of shadowing veterinarians and watching them, it was amazing to actually get to DO the procedures! 
     Here is a picture of the tiny clinic at the shelter with a very limited supply of medications and materials, poor lighting (there are frequently blackouts during surgery), and 2 shaky surgery tables (the white ones on the side) that are rusting and off balance.  While they certainly are in need of new/more materials, they still manage to accomplish so many surgeries and treatments every day.  It's really amazing.

    In addition, there's a workshop at the shelter that makes humane, comfortable harnesses for donkeys (one of the most commonly owned animals in Kenya used for farming, carrying water, etc.).  The KSPCA sells these harnesses to people in local towns, but if someone cannot afford them they are handed out for free (which is the more frequent case).  Here is the head of the workshop who started this donkey harness project about 22 years ago.
     So all in all my experience at the KSPCA has really been remarkable, and I just feel so fortunate to have been able to assist there and get so much hands on experience.  It really is something I will never forget.

     And just for the sake of showing something cute, here is one more picture of an adorable little puppy (who was being treated for worms).  Definitely wish this little guy could fly home with me... hehe

Sunday, July 10, 2011

The past few days

     While the first bit of this post is a bit delayed, it deserves to be the first thing mentioned because it was just so unbelievably cute and exciting - bottle feeding baby animals.  Literally a dream come true.  The 3 babies I was assigned to feed were the giraffe, baboon, and bush baby.  Here is me feeding the baby giraffe named Theresa :)

I also fed the little bush baby and baby baboon.  At the end of this whole feeding affair I certainly gained a few more furry friends :P (food is always the way to someone's heart)

     In addition to all of this excitement, me and several other interns attended a free orchestra concert in Uhuru park in downtown Nairobi (with a famous Italian conductor, Maestro Riccardo).  The vice president of Kenya even flew in on a helicopter to see the performance!  Afterwards, we went to the Masai Market which is a huge open air market where the Masai people sell their goods (literally hundreds of stands).  It was a bit overwhelming, but there were so many beautiful handmade crafts, jewelry, carvings, etc.  Most of their crafts involve incredible bead work with vibrant colors just making the market an amazing site.

    Then today at my host family's house we made an unbelievable Sunday feast.  There are 3 other interns here at the moment (from South Africa, Austria, and Singapore) so we made a big international potluck meal.  We had pasta carbonara, pork/fish meatball soup, chapatis, potato salad, roast chicken, minced beef, tom yum kai soup, and so much more.  We were all absolutely stuffed after!  There was also an abundance of good wine (South African wine) to just top off an amazing feast. 

     Now it's siesta time and we are all about to collapse on the couches to watch a movie, and little William, my host family's 1 and 1/2 year old son is contentedly settling in with me :) What a fantastic Sunday.

Sunday, July 3, 2011

Safari in Masai Mara

I just returned from a 3 day safari in Masai Mara National Reserve (on the border of Tanzania) and this was truly one of the most amazing things I have ever experienced.  It was so neat to see these animals in their natural habitat where they really just look so much more beautiful and healthy (well minus those unlucky few that were getting chomped on by a lion! haha).  The reserve was also absolutely stunning!  Here is a picture of the reserve in the evening (with some gazelle grazing) followed by an image of the sunrise.

Apart from the beautiful surroundings, we of course saw TONS of animals!  We saw a lot of buffalo (one of the most dangerous wild animals actually!), some elephants, and 3 cheetah brothers lounging underneath a tree.  I was surprised to learn that cheetahs are actually the only large cat that has true success at hunting during the day as a result of the black "tear" lines on their faces that reflect the sunlight so they can see more clearly.  Unfortunately we didn't see a cheetah make a kill, but it was still pretty amazing to be so close to these three!

The animals we probably saw in the most abundance though were the zebras and wildebeest.  They were literally EVERYWHERE.  The beginning of July is actually when the "great migration" begins so we weren't even seeing the bulk of the migration (just a few early starters) but the migration consists of over 1 million wildebeest migrating from the southern Serengeti (in Tanzania) to Masai Mara.  People generally think of this as just a wildebeest migration but about 200,000 zebras also migrate.  In fact, the wildebeest (who are fairly low on the intelligence scale...) migrate by following a path created by the zebra as the zebra graze (so it really should be known as the great zebra migration!).
We also reached the Mara River where during the peak of the migration thousands of wildebeests will be crossing at once (hopefully avoiding all the crocodiles!).  Right now though the river seemed relatively peaceful and was just inhabited by lots of hippos (which you can see behind me).
I was also surprised by the number of lions we saw on the safari (TONS)!  Here is a mom lion and her 3 cubs as well as their dad who had previously snagged a big wildebeest (the cubs were chomping on it earlier).  Definitely a good provider for the family :)

One evening we also had the opportunity to visit a Masai village (the most traditional tribe in Kenya) which was a very neat experience.  The villagers definitely put on a bit of the show (but tourism is a large part of how they make a living now), but it was still really neat to see how they live.  There was basically a circle of mud houses surrounded by prickly brambles and bushes to keep out predators and about 8 families lived in this village.  Some of the women in the village did a dance for us (shown in the picture below) and they were dressed in a beautiful array of bright clothing, beads, etc.  I have to say though, that I feel very fortunate not to be a woman growing up as a Masai seeing as it is a polygamous society (each man has about 5 or 6 wives) and the girls still undergo genital mutilation.  It was somewhat difficult to have conversations with the men in the village since my views on marriage, treatment towards women, etc. were so different, but it was a very enlightening experience.  And overall it was just a very neat culture to be exposed to.  So overall my trip to the Masai Mara was unbelievable to say the least.  Truly an unforgettable experience.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011


     Jambo! I just returned from a 5 day trip to Kisumu (the city where Obama's family actually comes from!) to help with a vasectomy on a lion!  The lion was in a sanctuary there, and they had wanted to put him in a cage with 2 female lions for company, but didn't want any little baby lions resulting from this... haha It was crazy to see surgery on such a large, wild animal!  First the vet had to dart the lion and once he was fully asleep, more anesthesia was administered.  I didn't get to dart the lion myself, but here is a picture of me with the dart gun just for fun :) haha 

     Then the lion was placed on a stretcher and lifted onto a wooden table (it took about 9 men to lift him up!). The lion was placed on his back, the area cleaned, shaved, and sterlized, and then snip snip! 

     The whole surgery took about 2 hours and they constantly monitored the lion to make sure he didn't wake up (that would have been quite eventful! haha).  Here I was just lifting up the blanket that was over his head to make sure he was still asleep...

     In the end everything was quite successful and in about 7 weeks, after he has fully healed, the lion will join his 2 new female friends :)  So all in all this has definitely been the highlight of my trip so far!  I feel so lucky to have had the opportunity to see surgery on a lion!  What an experience.

    In other news, the day before I left for Kisumu I had two very neat experiences at the animal orphanage where I am based back in Nairobi.  First, I had the opportunity to go in to the cage with the adult cheetahs and "cuddle" as they call it.  These cheetahs are extremely well socialized since they were brought in as tiny little cubs, and act just like giant house cats!  They were purring and licking me!  I have also bonded more with my little baby baboon pal and he has begun to affectionately "groom" me whenever I come by.  He keeps trying to pick off my freckles thinking they are bugs or something haha... kind of offensive, but hey, it's a baby baboon!  I feel pretty honored to have been selected as his "grooming" partner!

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

The weekend

     This Saturday I went in to Nairobi to explore a bit with Patrick and his wife Grace (they set up the internship for me through their small company called Gracepatt Ecotours).  They are both so sweet and just incredibly welcoming (great representatives of Kenyan people overall!)  Here is a picture of me with Patrick.

     First we went to a museum about the building of the Kenya-Uganda railway (created by the British when Kenya was under British rule), known as the most treacherous railroad project undertaken in Africa.  The working conditions were horrible and many workers died along the way, several from animal attacks (once the railway was up and running one first class passenger was actually killed when a lion jumped into his compartment as the train had come to a stop!). Unfortunately many lives were lost, but the railroad is still the primary railroad used in Eastern Africa.  Queen Elizabeth also rode along this railway many years ago and had a very fancy, first class compartment complete with a tea room!  Here is a picture of me sitting in Queen Elizabeth’s chairs that were in her tea room on the train haha

     We also walked around the government district where the Prime Minister’s office is as well as a court house, city hall, the primary bank of Kenya, the ministry of education, and several more prominent buildings.  Here is a picture of me in front of a government building (I believe that is the international trade building, but I can’t quite remember! Oops!) and then just a shot of a street in the city.

     Right now there is a lot of tension over the ministry of education in Kenya because the minister has been accused of embezzling 4.2 billion Kenyan shillings (about 46 million US dollars I believe) that were supposed to go towards education reform.  He is denying all accusations although everyone is certain he's guilty since he’s been involved in several other shady deals in the past.  Since the Kenyan government was only established in 1963 (once they were free from British rule) there is still a lot of corruption and misappropriation of power as they are still working out the kinks of forming a stable government (their next elections will be held in August 2012 which everyone here is extremely anxious about!). It’s been very interesting to watch the news though and see how their politics are playing out.

Sunday, June 19, 2011

My first days at KWS

     I have now completed my first week and spent a few days at the KWS compound.  Here is a picture of the entrance to KWS.  It is really gorgeous and meticulously well kept!

     I must say though that it’s taken a bit of adjusting learning how to be on “Kenyan time” where everything moves at a much slower pace and I often find myself with a lack of things to do during the day.  That being said, I think I am starting to get into the swing of things and hope this week will bring more exciting adventures (keeping my fingers crossed I’ll get to go out in the field again!).  
     For my first few days at KWS I have primarily assisted in feeding animals at the orphanage.  The majority of these animals were found in the wild when they were very young, so they were too socialized with humans to be released (although the deep, bellowing roar of the grown lions at feeding time certainly make them seem pretty wild to me! haha).  Here is one of the lions chowing down on a nice chunk of beef.

     There are also a few baby animals who have recently been brought in like this adorable little cheetah!  Unfortunately the cheetah babies are still too wild to be handled (you would be surprised at how fierce such a little fuzzy creature can be!).

    My favorite though is this baby baboon who will eagerly grab at my hands (and try to suckle on my fingers) whenever I am near.  Needless to say, I’m a big fan of this little guy haha

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Field work!

     So I went for the first day of my internship on Monday and actually had the opportunity to leave that afternoon for a few days of field work in Mwea National Reserve! There had been several Rothschild giraffe carcasses found in the reserve (this is the most endangered subspecies of giraffe), so the veterinary team was called in to investigate.  We found 5 carcasses total, but they had decayed too much to take any samples. 

     We then traveled around the park tracking live giraffes to see if any were exhibiting "sick" behavior; however, all the ones we found (about 40 total) appeared to be healthy and normal so we did not sedate any and take samples. You can see a few giraffes out on the hill!

     I would have loved to watch the process of a giraffe being sedated (quite a large and dangerous process since they have a long way to fall to the ground and you need to make sure they don't break their necks!), but I was glad the giraffes we found were all in good condition.  If more dead giraffes are found, a follow up investigation will certainly take place since they fear some disease is perhaps spreading among the Rothschild giraffes that could wipe out the population.
    We also saw some zebra in the park (they were pretty bold and not too afraid of us!)

    It was also very interesting to drive around and stop at small towns and villages on our way to the reserve (which is really out in the middle of nowhere!).  Many of the towns had populations of about 100 to 200 people and some of the people I met had never met a white person before... I definitely felt a little out of place, but it was a neat experience nonetheless and everyone I met was very friendly.  Here is a picture of one of the towns we visited (this picture actually encompasses the entire town):

     I also got to enjoy some local dishes consisting mainly of maize, beans, cooked spinach and onions, ugali (maize in a paste like form), and chipati (basically the Kenyan version of naan bread - my new personal favorite!!).  All in all it was a very eye opening and exciting trip and it definitely exposed me to many new things in my first few days here!