Outsmarting Baboons and Dodging Pelicans, Adam Eichenwald ’14 Studies Raptors in Kenya

adameichenwaldA day in the life for Adam Eichenwald ’14 this summer sometimes included a laundry raid by a troop of baboons, a sighting of giraffes out the kitchen window, and a near-miss collision with low-flying pelicans.

In between his encounters with local wildlife, Eichenwald worked on two ornithological research projects, one on Augur buzzards and the other on African fish eagles. Invited to work on the projects by The Peregrine Fund, Eichenwald lived for two months at the Elsamere Field Study Centre, located on the southern shore of Lake Naivasha in Kenya’s Rift Valley.

The region around Lake Naivasha is the seat of Kenya’s booming flower industry, producing 75 percent of the country’s flowers. The bouquets are exported for sale in places like European supermarkets. Over the past few decades, the industry has been poorly managed, leading to toxic runoff and dropping water levels. “It’s an ecological disaster,” Eichenwald said.

One of Eichenwald’s studies was looking at whether the number of fish eagles was an indicator of the health of the lake ecosystem. His other focus was researching the decline of the Augur buzzard since the rise of the flower industry.

While the futures of the subjects in Eichenwald’s studies are uncertain, he nonetheless marveled at the relatively abundant wildlife he was able to see in Kenya. “I basically had dinner with giraffes every night,” he said, “because they would come and prune the trees.” Meanwhile, zebras mowed the lawn.

Black and White Colobus monkeys lived above his sleeping quarters. Baboon troops frequently charged through the research center, stealing any laundry hanging up to dry. “I woke up one morning because someone was pounding on my door,” Eichenwald recalled. “It was seven in the morning, and I thought I had overslept. I sleepily went to the door, saying, ‘Hang on, hang on,’ and when I opened the door, I saw it was a baboon. We just looked at each other for a few moments, and then I closed the door.” For more stories of daily life in Elsamere, check out Eichenwald’s blog post for the Peregrine Fund.

In his free time, Eichenwald mingled with locals at markets and volunteered at the nearby Naivasha Owl Centre.

After Eichenwald returned to the U.S. in August, he began an internship at the U.S. Geological Survey in Baltimore, where he is assisting his supervisor’s research on immunology and ornithology.

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