Boise State raptor biology professor Marc Bechard teamed with Munir Virani, director of Africa programs for the Peregrine Fund, to take 11 Boise State students to Kenya’s Masai Mara National Wildlife Reserve as part of a 3-credit course titled East African Raptors.

This is the fifth time Bechard has taught the class. “I feel that it is important for Boise State students to learn about global issues,” he said. He wants his students to understand the serious problems Africa is grappling with in regard to raptor conservation.

“I feel that it is important for Boise State students to learn about global issues”
Children chase the Elsamere bus as the students make their way to Lake Naivasha.
Photo of Boise State student in a bus.
Top: Kenya street scene. Bottom: Boise State students ride a bus to Naivasha.
Photo of African streets
Left: Roadside vendor, Kenya. Right: Fishermen arriving along the shore at Lake Naivasha.
Students Aaron Sheetz and Britt Pendleton identify birds, Lake Naivasha National Park.

The students study the ecology and movements of African raptors, including a vulture population that is one of the most threatened on the planet. Populations of the birds have declined as much as 75 percent over the last two decades due to poisoning by local farmers and poachers.

Students each study and prepare a presentation on a specific raptor species and then have the opportunity to observe that particular species in the wild. “It’s fun when they see the bird they reported on. We all hear, “That’s my bird!” Bechard said.

 

"That’s my bird!"
Left: Hooded vultures. Right: Juvenile African fish eagle.
Juvenile fish eagle, white-backed vulture, pied kingfisher.
African crowned crane, wahlberg eagle, secretary bird.
Bateleur eagle, little bee-eater, grey-backed fiscal shrike.

The course started with boat surveys of Lake Naivasha to study African fish eagles, one of the most prominent bird species in the area. Naivasha is one of the biggest lakes in Kenya. It is surrounded by greenhouses owned by Dutch florists, which has resulted in a 10-fold increase in the human population around the lake. Although the fish eagles are negatively affected by the area’s lack of plumbing and sewers, Bechard said that they are holding strong.

Lake Naivasha was home to Joy and George Adamson, known for raising Elsa the lioness. The class stayed at the Elsamere Biological Station the Adamsons left when they passed away.

Photo of Boise State students on a boat in Lake Naivasha
Photo of Boise State students on a boat in Lake Naivasha
Boise State students conduct boat surveys on Lake Naivasha.
Photos of Lake Naivasha
Top left: Fishermen, Lake Naivasha. Top right: Hippo. Bottom left: Flower production on the shores of Lake Naivasha. Bottom right: Fishing in Lake Naivasha.
African fish eagle clutching a fish.
Photo of Boise State students on a boat in Lake Naivasha
Left: Grey Heron. Right: Students spot a raptor in the trees.

From Naivasha, the group moved about 150 miles southwest to Masai Mara National Reserve where students were able to observe birds, big game (including the Big Five: lions, leopards, cape buffalo, elephants and rhinos) and other wildlife.

Landscape photo of Africa with a safari vehicle and animals in the distance
Landscape photo of Africa with a safari vehicle and animals in the distance
Boise State students on a safari drive, Masai Mara National Reserve.
Photos of large African animals
Top: lion, elephant Bottom: crocodile, leopard
Photo of African landscape with giraffes in the distance
Photo of African landscape with giraffes in the distance
A tower of giraffes, Masai Mara National Reserve
Photos of African animals
Top: Hippo, cape buffalo, topi, baboon. Bottom: Hyena, zebra, jackal, elephant.
Photo of a cheetah
Photo of a cheetah
A cheetah on the move, Masai Mara National Reserve.
A male lion resting in the afternoon shade, Masai Mara National Reserve.

They also had the opportunity to interact with residents of the local Maasai village. Students learned how to make a Maasai fire, how to build a Maasai house, and what it takes to become a warrior. The interchange also allowed the Maasai men to earn money as tourist guides.

Photos of Masai men and women
Photo of Masai men and women
Photo of Masai men and women
Maasai women perform a traditional dance.

“The men drive cattle 30 kilometers per day and the women carry water, build houses from cow pies, and take care of kids,” Bechard said. “It’s not an easy life. All of this is an important part of the class learning experience.”

Photo of Boise State class sitting and taking in the African landscape
Photo of Boise State class sitting and taking in the African landscape
Sundowner, Masai Mara National Reserve.

Students who participated include: Gretel Care, Christina Hartman, Kelzie Hafen. Sadie Larsen, Aaron Sheetz, Britt Pendleton, Sara Pourzamani, Zoe Friel, Christine Hayes, Ashlee Webb and Emalee Fisher.

Bechard worked closely with Boise State’s International Learning Opportunities office to secure visas, assist with passports and arrange housing.