Mpala: A Living Landscape
Mpala: A Living Landscape


[MUSIC] DINO J. MARTINS:
Since the very dawn of time, people and wildlife have been part of Mpala’s landscape. KITILI MBATHI:
Mpala is located on the slopes of Mount Kenya in Laikipia where animals are able to roam freely in their natural habitat. DINO J. MARTINS:
Wildlife has been increasing, actually, in number, in this part of the world, whereas in many parts of the world, wildlife is actually decreasing. The priority for this land is science, research, conservation, and education. [BIRDS CHIRPING] DAN RUBENSTEIN:
Mpala was a ranch, originally. When George Small inherited it from his brother, he wanted to preserve his brother’s legacy. JEFFREY GONYA: Back when
I was about 27 years old, George came to our law firm. He was interested in preserving Mpala for wildlife and for science and research. Since George was a Princeton graduate, he was very interested in having Princeton involved. DENNIS KELLER:
In about 1990 he went to Princeton and said, how would you like a 50,000-acre
ranch in Kenya?” And Princeton said, “If there was a research center on that land, we could probably participate in that.” Princeton recruited the Smithsonian, and then George recruited the National Museums of Kenya and the Kenya Wildlife Service. MARGARET KINNAIRD:
Our mission here is to look at how humans and wildlife can live together sustainably. SANDY ODOUR:
Let’s say an elephant has a wound and it has been reported on the neighboring community. We call the Kenya Wildlife Service to come and immobilize the elephant and treat it. MATTHEW MUTINDA:
We have a synergistic relationship with Mpala Research Centre. They are able to report sick wildlife and we are able to take them. And post-treatment, they are able to monitor it. SUBJECT:
Let’s do a good job, guys! KITILI MBATHI:
As a private research center, scientists at Mpala able to control their experiments in ways that they wouldn’t be able to in national parks. DINO J. MARTINS:
Mpala is truly unique in that it allows scientists and students to engage in long-term experiments at a landscape scale. GEOFFREY MWACHALA:
Climate change is a big concern and it’s going to be a growing topic of engagement. We have partnered with the Smithsonian Institution. And we have developed this huge piece of land where we are monitoring tree growth and vegetation change. So this is the first time, actually, we have an opportunity to see, what is the role of wild vegetation in addressing some of this problem that we are having. JEFFREY GONYA:
In 1992 or maybe 1994, George and I went out into a field and laid out some rocks where he thought the research center should be. The first building of the research center was built in 1995. PAULA KAHUMBU:
I was in one of the earliest classes that came to Mpala as a Princeton graduate student starting my Ph.D. I was the only I was the only Kenyan at that time. There was no center, we camped by the riverside, we cooked our own meals, we slept in little pup tents, and it was amazing. The place was teeming
with wildlife. Since then it’s been really exciting to see how it’s blossomed into this international institution that is providing a base for African scientists who can interact with scientists all over the world. DINO J. MARTINS:
We have scientists and students from over 40 different institutions and countries working at Mpala currently. SUBJECT:
Twenty point two-seven. SUBJECT: Free to go. DINO J. MARTINS:
We’ve had some major discoveries. Papers have been published in the world’s leading journals. Of the top 10 universities in the world, nine of them are currently
working at Mpala. CHRISTOPHER L. EISGRUBER:
Over the past 25 years there’s been a wonderful relationship between Princeton University and the Mpala Research Centre. We have faculty in a wide variety of fields going over to undertake original research projects and accompanying them are undergraduate students and graduate students. DAN RUBINSTEIN: Okay, as soon as you hit that okay, now it’s logging. CHRISTOPHER L. EISGRUBER: What goes on in Mpala exemplifies perfectly what we aim at here at Princeton which is a seamless blending of teaching and research with faculty and students
working together. DAN RUBENSTEIN:
Teaching in the field is completely different from teaching on campus. When they come to a field setting, it’s total immersion from dawn til way after dusk. And we become partners in generating knowledge. Well, there’s two right there. CHRISTOPHER L. EISGRUBER:
One of the genuinely special things about Mpala is the way that it takes students out of the world that they’ve known and exposes them to things that are utterly different and some of that is about what it means to do research on the ground in a place unlike where
they’ve been before. ZOE SIMS:
Living and learning at Mpala has shaped me in ways that I never expected. As an undergrad, I think I felt pressure to follow a certain path that was really known. But what was really important for me in taking the opportunities to research abroad as an undergrad, it has felt to me like choosing more of an unknown path and really embracing that. I think that’s what life is all about right, is finding meaningful challenges. [MUSIC] DON GRAHAM:
Where I’ve gotten feedback from students that has been the most positive is where the educational opportunities were shared with Kenyan university students. That was a collaboration with and making friends with people that have had varied backgrounds and very different experiences. SUBJECT: Light green, light green, orange. [MUSIC] DINO J. MARTINS:
For the next 25 years, we need to invest in the capacity-building of young African scientists who will go on to shape not just change in Africa, but across the world. Dedan, who’s one of our young scientists from Karatina University, working on the African wild dog, he’s been working in local communities because rabies is one of the biggest threats, to people and livestock, as well as endangered species like African wild dog and cheetah. DEDAN NGATIA:
What is very interesting here in Laikipia is you never find such coexistence anywhere where coexistence anywhere where people, wildlife, livestock are living very close to each other. Our main concern right now is, what does that mean for disease transmission. For us, to ensure that we get to be rabies-free, we need to get a coverage of 70% of the total population of dogs in three consecutive years. The big idea is not just to vaccinate domestic dogs. The big idea is about protecting people, protecting wildlife, and protecting livestock. DINO J. MARTINS:
By developing a campaign to vaccinate domestic dogs across this landscape, Dedan has engaged and empowered communities, but he’s taken science and used it as an evidence-based intervention to solve a problem. [SQUEAL] In a couple of years, we will be able to say we’ve eradicated rabies from Laikipia. [BARKING] KITILI MBATHI:
Mpala is well-known for conducting research around the cohabitation of wildlife and lifestock. And this is an increasingly important area. JACOB LOKORERE:
We keep cattle, goat, sheep and camels. A lion coming to the boma (corral), kills an animal, I mean you can’t stand and watch. We used to kill them. STEVE EKWANGA:
Today we are also using the GPS collar to make the management of lion and cattle very easy. This collar sends information via satellite to the computer. Shows you where exactly the lions are. So if the boma (cattle corral) is nearby, you go there and warn herders. Say, you know, “Lions are very close by.” JACOB LOKORERE:
I had some lions that came into my property and I got an email from the Mpala Research Centre. And I could get from the Google Map, and I could locate where lions were in my property. I think it’s a positive thing because it’s a preventive measure. GEOFFREY MWACHALA:
Right from when Mpala Research Centre was started, an underlying principle was that this is not going to be an isolated laboratory. We are part of humanity, we are part of society. So we have continuously maintained an engagement with the surrounding communities. We have contributed significantly in terms of health, especially reproductive health of the surrounding communities, as well as their general education. Through Mpala, not only do we provide scholarships to young people in primary schools, elementary schools, but we also offer opportunities for internship so that these graduates, when they finish high school, they can come back and begin to learn from their work in Mpala, whether it is research, administrative, so they begin to get hands-on. [CHILDREN PLAYING] DINO J. MARTINS:
Mpala today is an incredibly robust environment for young African scientists to go
into the field alongside peers from all over the world and learn and discover. One of the students who’s benefitted from the partnership with Mpala is Kennedy. Kennedy was my student
working in my lab on butterflies, and today Kennedy is joining Princeton as a Ph.D. student thanks to the opportunity that he was connected with at Mpala. KENNEDY SAITOTI:
Mpala is a very big shaping part of my life. It’s where I really gathered a lot of my research experience. I met a lot of illustrious scientists from different scopes of the world. It’s through Mpala that actually I was able to narrow down what I really want to do. I was raised in a very humble background in the biggest slum in Africa. I don’t think I would have pictured myself even just finishing high school. The moment I received the admission to Princeton, that was the best moment in my life. Right now I’m studying the evolution of social behavior in bees. I’ve worked with bees on ecological perspectives in Kenya. They play a very crucial role. Princeton offered one of those labs that actually was looking into that. It was it was a perfect match for me. Whatever questions I wanted to ask, one lab was specifically looking at everything that actually I wanted to know. DINO J. MARTINS:
One of the programs that we’re very, very proud of here at Mpala is our educational work. Mpala works with over 12 different schools in the immediate neighborhood located in rural pastoralist communities through the northern Kenya conservation clubs. MARGARET KINNAIRD:
We’re building a huge cadre of conservationists in this generation right now, not just for the next generation. It gives me great joy to listen to someone who came here when they were a young child that has gone through the conservation clubs and they are full out wildlife conservationists. DAN RUBENSTEIN:
Learning about the animals is important, learning about biodiversity is important, but understanding the dynamics of the ecosystem is actually more important. You get them outside, they’re enthusiastic, they get their parents connected, and then the community starts to realize that these kids are learning. And so you’re starting to see kids becoming more confident in their own ability to learn just in general. PAULA KAHUMBU:
When I finished my Ph.D., I started working in conservation and looking at what are the most powerful ways that we can influence future generations of Kenyans who will become the wildlife warriors of the future, the people who will decide on the fate of this extraordinary wildlife that we have in this country. SUBJECT:
It blends in with the grass! SUBJECT: Exactly! SUBJECT: It does, doesn’t it? Camouflage. I don’t want to touch it. PAULA KAHUMBU:
One of the most powerful tools we have is citizen science. That is a, is it a Grevy or is it a…? Plain. Plain? You cannot watch zebras and not fall in love with them when you’re busy studying them and trying to take photographs of them. And we’ve done this with children because we believe that that is when a switch can happen and conservation becomes tattooed on us forever. [CHILDREN TALKING]
SUBJECT: Okay, wait, wait. DAN RUBENSTEIN:
In 2016 we did a complete census of Grevy Zebra, which is an endangered species that live in Kenya. DINO J. MARTINS:
The citizen science data has shown us that the Grevy Zebra has a population that is recovering and rising. DAN RUBENSTEIN:
The only way we can do a true census is to have lots of different people involved taking photographs. What more important people than school kids? So we have school children driving around in buses, it keeps them engaged, they learn, and therefore they start to become champions and ambassadors of the species. PAULA KAHUMBU:
It’s incredible how things have grown – the center, the number of students, the amount of research. It’s, I think, beyond anyone’s wildest expectations when the center was started. DINO J. MARTINS:
The first genomics lab in sub-Saharan Africa is now up and running at Mpala. Working with our Kenyan veterinary fellow from The Smithsonian, Dr. Maureen Kamal, students from Princeton and Columbia conducted the first genome microbiome sequencing for black rhino, Grevy Zebra, and cheetah. I see a future of Mpala where we robustly engage in solving the problems that we face, whether in Africa or globally, by bringing the brilliance and passion and curiosity of students and scientists from around the world to really make a difference. PAULA KAHUMBU:
Imagine if a thousand African students were able to engage at Mpala and learn about all this biodiversity. Those people will end up influencing policy, decision-making, and visions for the future of our biodiversity. I don’t think there’s really a limit to how much this place can do. [MUSIC]

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