Blog entry by Wenxi, Savi and Joaquin

This morning we woke up to beautiful weather, with clear skies dotted with puffy clouds. The scenery in front of the campgrounds was unbelievable, a long sunlight layered plateau followed by some volcanic mountains in the background. After another great breakfast, we continued with our student debates.

The first debate of the day was moderated by Lilly, with Nestor and Zoe arguing for or against the effectiveness of ‘debt for nature’ swaps. Lilly opened the debate with a brief introduction and explanation of the history of ‘debt for nature’ swaps before handing the stage to Zoe and Nestor for their point-counter point arguments. Lilly explained that debt for nature swaps is a way for a country to relieve some of its outstanding debt burden. In lieu of a developing nation paying back their debt in full to another country, the debt of the former will be forgiven and instead the money previously owed will then be invested in conservation. Zoe supported this proposition, and argued that ‘debt for nature’ swaps are effective in reducing the indebtedness. It also involves many parties which therefore increases accountability. In terms of policy alignment debtor nations must work hard to include indigenous peoples, increasing the effectiveness of the swap within their country. To conclude, Zoe argued that it was economically effective and a plausible solution for indebted countries. To counter this proposition, Nestor argued against ‘debt for nature’ swaps, with such multi-party agreement being ineffective, and often taking a very long time to unfold. He also argued that these swaps often do not involve indigenous peoples which leads to conflict with locals, and an ineffectiveness of the conservation initiative. His last point was that indebted countries must carefully track where the money goes as often the effectiveness of the debt forgiveness is compromised by ineffective use of funds. It was a compelling topic, and provided interesting insights into the economics side of conservation.

Following this informative discussion, we had another debate, where Wenxi acted as a moderator, Savi supported the proposition that traditional medicine is of little demonstrated value to human health, but a leading cause of biodiversity loss and Joaquin would argue against this proposition. Savi’s arguments for the proposition were that: 1. traditional medicine is not proven to be clinically effective, 2. it causes an increased demand for animal parts, and 3. the development of new hunting technologies lead t ever more rapid removal of animals and plants from their habitats and habitat destruction. Joaquin countered that local communities can often sustainably and effectively preserve local biodiversity, some traditional medicine does have demonstrated value in enhancing prospects for human health; and that for many remote  communities local traditional medicine is the only option. Thus the value of traditional medicine should be considered on a case by case basis. The floor was then opened to all, and many good points were brought forth. Carol, explained to us how in Kenya there is a 6 tiered approach to health care and that the country is working to integrate the traditional practices into this system. Wenxi closed the debate by summarizing the points and the discussion.

After lunch, the group reconvened for the last debate of the course, focused on the proposition that “International treaties and conventions are effective tools in diminishing illegal trade in wildlife and wild plants and enhancing conservation.” Peiwen moderated this debate between Karen and Evelyn, arguing for and against, respectively. Some of Karen’s arguments for the proposition included that: 1.  CITES (Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora), has been effective in reducing international trade in endangered species; 2. these agreements do take into account and even enhance economic development of nations; and 3. there is a desperate need for such accords as political borders have no relevance to wildlife. In opposition, Evelyn, among other points, indicated that agreements like CITES: 1. often do not benefit nations economically and can harm the environment through black market activities; 2. that some poorer countries can be ‘held hostage’ by larger , richer nations Both sides made interesting and effective arguments and once the floor was opened it was evident that there were many alternate viewpoints.

Following this last debate, we had some free time. Part of the class went for an enjoyable birdwatch locally. We wandered down the country road just outside the camp with bucolic country scenery. Once in while the group would make a seemingly random stop where everyone pulled out binoculars and cameras and started to flip through pages of a trustworthy Kenyan bird guide: this funny nerdy behaviour attracted much friendly attention from the local people. Obviously they are well acquainted with their avian friends, and we were just starting to learn. After 45 minutes we reached an open shrub field with waves of yellow flowers stretching along the horizon. Time for a group photo! Fearing the approaching clouds from afar with a diminishing sunlight, we headed back to the camp with a handful of birds on our ‘bird list’: oreo-like puffball is the Common Fiscal (Lanius collaris), hopping tiny little bird ground with a fusion of pink and grey from belly to back goes to Red-billed firefinch. The list included another 7 species in just half an hour!

Others stayed back and played some football (soccer) with some new friends [see gallery photo below]. One of the boys, Java, who was about 8 years old and loved Neymar, accidentally kicked the ball at Joaquin’s face pushing his glasses against his nose, resulting in a small cut. Luckily, Zoe was around to help take care of the wound. Nestor and Joaquin continued playing with the three boys for a few hours until the rest of the group returned from their lovely birdwalk.

At night Davin, Zoe, Karen and Joaquin had the opportunity to speak with a new local friend, Maurice. He let us know about some of the issues that the local communities confront. He told us about some of the traditional customs in Kenya which he strongly disagreed with, mostly pertaining to rituals of achieving manhood and FGM. He also mentioned a few political issues, discussing the large socioeconomic disparity that still exists in Kenya. He then shared his perspective on the need for greater inclusion of local communities and accessibility to wildlife for many Kenyans and even talked about some of the local issues regarding wildlife-human conflict, specifically pertaining to baboon attacks and some other monkeys in the region.

All things considered, this was a much more relaxed and restful day then the others, but it was still filled with much fun and many educational opportunities.

Click on the thumbnails to see larger versions of these photos.

Immature red-backed shrike