Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Bonus Blog!

Hey guys!
A Turkana sunrise

This week I decided to post an extra blog to accommodate the two additional interviews that I've managed to conduct.

A Bug Lovers Life: The Story of Dino Martins.
Dino explaining the importance of conservation at a local school

      Dino Martins is 34 years old, and was born in Nazareth, although he's lived at Eldoret (an area a few hours south from here) most of his life. Dino was our professor for our second module, ecology. Having him as a professor was a tremendous experience. He was able to identify nearly every living thing in the area: from bees to trees to spiders to birds. I learned a great deal about the environment by listening to him rattle off species names and lifestyles as we walked around. Dino specializes in bugs, specifically the social insects bees and ants. Half of our class time during the module consisted of catching new bee specimens for him!
In response to my asking, "what the heck got you interesting in bugs in the first place?" he told me that he grew up without a TV, and watching bugs was what he did for entertainment instead. He spent the earlier part of his life in Kenyan public schools until he went to Indiana University for his undergraduate degree. There he completed a degree in anthropology and biology, and in 1999 he returned to Kenya. After finishing undergrad, he spent a few years working for various ecology-related groups, like the Environment Liaison Centre, Nature Kenya and writing for the Kenya Wildlife Service and on projects to help stop the illegal seizing of green land around Nairobi.
Yes, we do have pigeons here
Not wanting to go abroad for his masters degree, Dino worked with a professor from South Africa doing research on hawkmoths. And he has just completed his PhD from Harvard University (where he met the famous entomologist E.O. Wilson!). Dino has actually had a few celebrity encounters: he accidentally met both Madonna and Mother Theresa.
So why is Dino interested in Northern Kenya? Well, it turns out that this area contains a very large bee diversity, and a surprising amount of undescribed bee species. Plus, he gets to teach kids like us! But teaching isn't the only thing Dino does. He's currently involved with a lot of communities to help on conservation projects and aid in sustainable development. Additionally, he has research projects on ants and termites, and he's finishing a guidebook on the dragonflies and damselflies of Northern Kenya. He's also a very talented painter, and adorns his guidebooks with original renderings of the animals under discussion.

Dino holding a praying mantis

The Go-Away bird, aptly named for it's annoying call
And being a devout naturalist, he spends all of his free time in nature too. Main hobbies include hiking, horseback riding, and going birdwatching in the rainforest. Like Francis, Dino is another part of the puzzle of Kenya's development. Kenya's ecological richness is constantly threatened by expanding civilization and the overexploitation of it's natural resources. Devoted scientists like Dino are on the front line in educating citizens about the importance of creating a sustainable relationship with their environment. Programs like this are crucial, both for the people of Kenya and it's plants and animals.

Discovering Yourself at Koobi Fora
Meave on her way to the lab
A rainbow caused by all of the rain that we've been having
      Meave Leakey was born in London in 1942. Her father was a surgeon, and her mother was a hospital assistant. Growing up in post WWII Britain, she remembers that every little thing was a treat, because  after the war there was so little food available. She grew up in Kent and was sent to a convent when she was eight. Unhappy with this experience, she then moved on to an all-girls boarding school. Because it was unusual for women to go into scientific fields at that time, she found that her school had very little in the way of science classes, and so transferred to a technical college for the last two years of high school.
    Meave started out determined to go into marine biology. The oceans were quite poorly understood (as they are now) and she wanted to discover something new. She attended the University of North Wales in Bangor, and graduated with a joint degree in zoology and oceanography at a time when dual degrees were discouraged. But upon graduation, Meave had a difficult time finding a job because there were no facilities for women aboard research vessels. Following advice from a friend, she found an advertisement on the front page of the London Times for a position in a primate research facility in Kenya. She called the telephone number, and none other than Louis Leakey picked up.
A bit of blue sky peeking through the clouds
A baby baboon

    The interview was conducted in London at the Goodall house, and mainly by Jane's mother. After the interview, Louis offered her a job on the spot and she soon found herself on the way to Kenya. Louis met her at the airport and showed her around for the weekend, taking her to the Nairobi Park, the Kenya National Museum and finally by light aircraft to Olduvai Gorge. He then left her to initiate her own research project on modern monkey bones. Meave remembers Louis telling her that he could stick the end of a monkey bone in his mouth and tell her, not just which bone it was, but what species it belonged to! She spent two years working at the primate research center and was able also to collect data for her PhD and then she returned to Bangor to write up her dissertation.
    Shortly after getting her degree, Louis contacted her to ask her if she would return to the facility in1969 for a short while. While she was there, she met Richard and subsequently accepted his invitation to join his expedition to Koobi Fora, on the east side of Lake Turkana. When she arrived at the camp, the other members of the expedition were engrossed in joining dozens of aerial photographs. Because there weren't any good maps of the region, Richard had organized a plane to enable him to take aerial photographs of the entire north east side of the lake. This was essential in order to keep track of where fossils were found. Later they traveled north on camels in search of new fossil sites. On the second day, Meave and Richard began searching for fossils and before long found a nearly perfectly preserved hominin skull lying on the sand of a dry river bed. After collecting this amazing fossil, they put the skull into a biscuit tin, strapped it to a camel, and returned to Koobi Fora. It was a robust australopithecine, Paranthropus boisei, and the first taste of success for Meave in the field of paleontology.
Some casts of the paranthropus skulls found
    At that time, Richard was Director of the Kenya National Museum. As the fossil collections rapidly expanded through the1970s with the many finds from Turkana, Meave helped organize the paleontology laboratory. while also carrying out research on fossil monkey bones and ancient early Miocene apes (17 million years old). In 1989, Richard retired from the museum to take up a position as Director of the Kenya Wildlife Service, and Meave took over the paleontology field research at Lake Turkana. Working at sites on the west side of the lake (where this field school is) her field team discovered Australopithecus anamensis and later Kenyanthropus platypus, two early hominins, as well as collecting important data about ancient ecosystems.
     In 2007, Meave, Richard, and their daughter Louise began the construction of the Turkana Basin Institute (TBI), as a home base for research in the area and to help train the new generation of paleontologists, anthropologists, ecologists, archaeologists, geologists, etc. who will undoubtedly reshape our understanding of human evolution.

There you have it! I will post the entry about our experiences on Sunday as per usual.

Until then!

A Turkana sunset


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