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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
“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.”
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.