The team made a great deal of progress this semester when it came to applying for grant funding and curriculum development. Being able to work with the Maasai community and improving a poor situation is the most rewarding part of being a part of MAEC and the second is definitely being able to participate with the group in the first place. A large part of this progress came from the flexibility each new team shows and our ability to collaborate. The support we receive from Arizona State University, the Maasai Education and Research Center (MERC), and you are invaluable.
At the beginning of the semester, we applied for a $100,000 grant from the Big Cats Initiative from National Geographic with the goal of preventing animal poaching in general. Using previously done research, we argued that implementing an encrypted radio communication system for the safari drivers in Kenya could reduce poaching, including that of big cats. The Maasai people are the best equipped to care for and respect these animals. As of December, there is no date set for announcement of awardees.
We also applied and made it to the final round of ASU’s Changemaker Challenge towards the end of the semester. Vivian Chen and Cassidy Hornsby made the final presentation to the judges and as of December 18, feel very good about our chances of winning the $2,500 we asked for - enough to buy another 7 of our mobile repair kits. The winners of this challenge will not be announced for another week. These kits are important for beginning the process of getting the Center up and running because it allows us to teach our curriculum without the use of a fully functioning facility.
The team has made progress in creating our curriculum. The steps in creating the lessons involved 1) listing the most common maintenance and repair operations faced by the MGA drivers and possible using the mobile repair kit, 2) creating a template for consistent future lessons and rubrics so that future lessons can easily be recognized as being a part of the same program, 3) gaining hands-on experience repairing similar vehicles, 4) creating the actual lessons and 5) test teaching the lessons for refinement.
The template will introduce the curriculum as a brand and creates a more professional trust. There are five completed lessons: engine basics, steering basics, cooling systems, changing tires, and glow plug and fuel injector replacement. The lessons will need to be updated as the curriculum begins to come together but the first iteration has already begun and looks promising.
Experience came from Professor of Automotive Systems Engineering at ASU, Jim Contes, who invited us to his totally-equipped garage where the team completed the work on changing tires, changing brake pads, oil change, lubrication and instructed us on steering, coolant, brakes and other aspects of vehicles. He walked us through doing all of the repairs for the lessons we were working on and more. Respecting coronavirus guidelines, we were able to meet in person and work on actual, physical vehicles as well as create our own media content for lessons in the future. For each topic, one team member actually performed the task while asking questions, one student took notes, while the other two were in charge of taking pictures and videos. We familiarized ourselves with the tool kits and added to a list of new tools required based on what we learned from our hands-on lessons. The team sends a huge thank you to Professor Contes for donating so much of his time towards helping us improve as students, teachers, mechanics, and a team as a whole.
The resulting created lessons were test taught over zoom to both experienced mechanics and novices with no experience with vehicle repair. The result was a team awareness that these lessons should be developed by experienced mechanics who know the small details which students could only learn by lots of practice, and that’s not available. The curriculum development, therefore, has pivoted. We will refine the existing lessons but will search for established mechanics curricular materials for the remaining lessons from trade schools with certified programs in auto mechanics. The student team will then adapt those lessons to Kenya and to the Land Cruisers using service manuals as references. The team looks forward to traveling to Kenya to teach the first cohort of students.
This groundwork will be great for continuity throughout this endeavor as the team itself is always changing. Consistency is key and having it recognizable as being from the same project, despite being made by different people, will do wonders for staying on schedule.
What Is Poaching?
According to the Library of Congress, there are three conditions under which hunting is illegal:
What Motivates Poaching?
Poaching is a profitable business because the body parts of these endangered animals are highly demanded in the market. Rhino horns, for instance, are believed to treat hangovers, impotence, fever, and cancer--though none is scientifically proven to be true. Ivory, on the other hand, is carved into jewelry, utensils, religious figurines, and trinkets.
In addition, any general market conditions such as supply and demand fluctuations also affect poaching rates. For instance, the Chinese ban on ivory trade in 2017 might have blunted demand for elephant poaching, but also driving the value of ivory up.
Lastly, one of the biggest motivations for poaching is poverty. According to CNN World, “There tended to be more poaching in areas with higher poverty density, leading researchers to suggest that the decline in poaching will not be sustainable without a decline in poverty.” Lack of income motivating poaching is also seen in poaching rates during COVID-19. According to VOA News, “Uganda’s national parks recorded a doubling of wildlife poaching during the pandemic compared to this time last year.”
Why Is Poaching in Africa an Important Problem?
Poaching is destroying endangered species populations in Africa. According to the African Wildlife Foundation:
What Is the State of Poaching Now in Africa?
According to Save the Rhino, in the last decade, Africa lost 9,442 rhinos to poaching. The number of rhinos poached per year increased from 2008 to 2015, hitting a peak of 1,349 before slowly decreasing year by year afterwards. In South Africa, the country with the highest rhino population in the world, rhino poaching numbers have been steadily decreasing between 2014 and 2019 as well. Even though 2019 showed a significant decrease in poaching from the previous year, on average, a rhino is still being killed every 15 hours.
In the Maasai Mara, not only are the aforementioned rhinos harmed by poaching, but also the lions, cheetahs, great apes, pangolins, and various other species suffer due to the perceived value of any of their body parts.
What Are Anti-Poaching Solutions Currently Being Used?
Technology can protect wildlife in many ways. For example, tagging and sensors allow for eavesdropping and monitoring of human activities remotely. Other monitoring solutions include camera traps, satellite images, etc. Most recently, technicians have been experimenting with drones due to their high potential of being an effective deterrent and Google Glass to track and document wildlife movements.
Other creative anti-poaching solutions, according to One Green Planet, include anti-poaching dogs, dehorning rhinos, employing mobile veterinary units, and microchipping endangered species.
What Are Some Ways You Can Help?
If you would like to support anti-poaching efforts on the Maasai Mara, please donate--however much or little you can afford--to our GlobalResolve team. Aside from us, there are also a number of organizations doing tremendous work to preserve the wildlife populations on this planet, including but not limited to:
Lastly, as a consumer, you hold the power of influencing the demand--one of the biggest motivators of poaching as mentioned above--for poaching. Therefore, you can educate yourself on your purchases--their source, labor conditions, and materials. As you find out more information about the materials of the product, avoid products that are sourced from the body part of an endangered--or any--animal. This holds true for clothing, jewelry, silverware, decorations, and even food. The best way to be sure that your purchase does not contribute to the demand for poaching is by directly asking the shopkeeper where the product was made and whether it was permitted by its country of origin to be produced.
As animals do not possess the voice to advocate for themselves, be the voice to protect them so that our future generations may still come to know of them.
My name is Miles Miller and my Maasai name is Ole Rakwa. I have been managing the development of the Maasai Automotive Education Centre for the past year and am back in Maasailand with my team for the next two months to work on the first stages of implementation and research for MAEC. It’s good to be back!