2012 *t e r r a* now available

We're pleased to announce we've released the 2012 version of our annual publication, *t e r r a,* the journal of science, exploration, and culture.

In this issue we celebrate "small size, big results" of three projects in North America and Africa to document and conserve biodiversity and cultural heritage:

- Sky Jacobs takes us on several expeditions deep into the Sierra Madre's wildest rivers in search of new species;

- Bryan Reynolds of the Butterflies of the World Foundation takes us on a North American butterfly safari;

- and ConserVentures founders Roseann and Jonathan Hanson share their first TERRA Expedition to help the Maasai of Kenya's South Rift preserve one of the most famous emblems of their heritage.

Download a free PDF issue from our website here, or visit our publising partner, Magcloud, to order a beautiful print version.

Blood and Leather—re-creating the Maasai war shield

History records that rapacious, musket-armed Arab slave caravans of the 18th and 19th centuries avoided transiting what is now central and southern Kenya and northern Tanzania—it just wasn’t worth risking the wrath of the belligerent spear-wielding Maasai who dominated the region. Early European explorers as well dreaded the sight of a line of colorful leaf-shaped shields appearing on a hilltop, and took roundabout routes into the interior. Even the mighty British Empire never directly confronted the Maasai militarily, and relied instead on political sleight of hand to squeeze the tribe out of its best grazing lands once the area was deemed a protectorate. 

While the Maasai no longer range and raid at will over the East African landscape, they have continued to fight to retain their identity as a tribe and culture, picking and choosing which bits of the modern world they wish to adapt. Thus a red-robed and sandaled herdsman leaning on a spear in the South Rift is quite likely to be chatting in Maa on a cell phone, and a smartly-dressed businessman in Nairobi might go home for the weekend to a hut surrounded by a thorn boma that keeps lions out of the livestock.

But one icon of Maasai history—those tall, intricately decorated rawhide shields, so universally recognizable that one features centrally on Kenya’s national flag—seemed lost forever, save as dusty relics in museums, rare and expensive objets d’art from exclusive curio dealers, or, tragically, as cheap, undersized, shoddily made tourist souvenirs. The loss was doubly sad since each shield’s design elements, or sirata, revealed detailed information about its bearer’s clan and achievements, and thus represented a tangible record of Maasai history.

This loss seemed unacceptable to two elders in the Olkirimatian community of Kenya’s South Rift Valley. Tonkei Ole Rimpaine and Karinte Ole Manka—both former shield bearers now in their 70s—approached ConserVentures with a plan: They wanted to put together a workshop to build new shields, using authentic techniques and materials, with the immediate goal of producing examples to be displayed in a planned Maasai heritage museum, and the secondary but much more vital goal of passing on their knowledge to a younger generation. Through the generosity of several donors, we arranged to source rawhide and supply food and transportation to the group, and to use the Lale’enok Resource Center as a base. John Kamanga, the chairman of the Olkirimatian community and a driving force for Maasai cultural conservation, was our liason as we worked on logistics from 7,000 miles away. The construction team comprised John’s father, Ntetiyian Ole Pasoi, two other elders, Sipale Mpoe and Marikete Ole Ilelempu, and four women, Rijano Ene Ntetiyian (John’s mother), Majakus Ene Saitage, Moyiangei Ene Sampao, and Bebi Ene Mugesa.

Over the course of five days in late October, Tonkei and Karinte supervised the group while we photographed and filmed the entire process. In that time, one cowhide (the only major concession to the 21st century, the original cape buffalo being no longer available since Kenya banned hunting), some goatskin, and a pile of limbs from a Cordia senensis tree magically morphed into two sturdy shields—a stiff rawhide face backed by a carved, tensioned center stay and handgrip, the perimeter laced with goatskin around flexible Cordia wands. Then, alchemist concoctions of charred bone, ocher, limestone, and cow’s blood (the latter amusingly stored in an old Famous Grouse whiskey bottle), dabbed and streaked on the shields with chewed twigs, blossomed into recreations of the original Olkirimatian sirata. The two senior elders eyed each line and color critically, and more than once sections were scraped off and re-painted to achieve the proper symmetry. Throughout the process, young Maasai men of the community hung around to watch or help, taking cell-phone photos and fueling our hopes that some might be inspired to take up the craft as a business—we believe there’d be a ready market for detailed and authentic Maasai shields as a counterpoint to the cheesy tourist rubbish.

To us the end products—as far as we know the first true Maasai shields produced in decades—seemed like priceless artifacts. Yet before the paint was dry Tonkei and another elder had grabbed them and set to in a fierce mock duel, leaping and yelling like the Morani they were 50 years earlier while we cheered wincingly from the sidelines. 

The completed shields, not minus a few scuff marks, are now stored at the Lale’enok Resource Center. One will be taken to Nairobi to be used in educational programs; the other is destined for the planned cultural museum to be built at a nearby archaeological site, Olorgesailie.

That is, as long as Tonkei Ole Rimpaine and Karinte Ole Manka don’t decide to requisition them, grab a couple of spears, and head out to raid cattle and take some land back from the British.  

* * * 

Photo gallery (51 images): click here.

ConserVentures provided photography and videography services for this project, and will be producing books, posters, and film for the Maasai Cultural Heritage Program. You can learn more about the South Rift Association of Land Owners and their programs at www.soralo.org

Second spring

One of the most common misconceptions about the Sonoran Desert held by those who’ve never lived here is that there are no seasons. Isn’t it just hot and dry all year long? Maybe a little less hot in “winter?”

Of course, we don’t get the spectacular fall foliage that blankets states such as Vermont in swaths of yellow, red, and orange (unless you head to our nearby mountains . . . ). But nature compensates us for that: We get two springs. 

The geography of the Sonoran Desert region, while it restricts the overall amount of rain that falls each year, breaks what does fall into two major periods—one in July and August, another in December and January. The summer rainy season is characterized by brief, powerful thunderstorms that originate in the tropical Pacific Ocean or the Gulf of Mexico; winter rains are usually more gentle and of longer duration (and, of course, colder), and sweep down from the northern Pacific. In good years each season will result in about four or five inches of rain—perhaps 10 inches annually. Not much by the standards of Vermont residents, who’d cry “Drought!” if they failed to get three times that amount—but desert plants and animals have evolved to exploit every drop.

On the road for butterflies

We recently became acquainted with the Butterflies of the World Foundation, a small but hard-working non-profit dedicated to improving public awareness of butterflies, and conservation of their habitats—vital to these lovely insects, many of which also (like the birds above) migrate vast distances. Founder and chief butterfly fanatic Bryan Reynolds has used a Jeep Liberty to travel through 15 states and provinces thus far in North America, recording the lives of butterflies through beautiful photography, sharing his images in public venues, and publishing in national and international magazines.

Download their impressive accomplishments and mission statement here.

A perfect match for ConserVentures with our theme of exploration and conservation, the organization is seeking help properly outfitting its Jeep Liberty for extended overland travel. Here's their wish list (download a PDF copy here), contact us or Bryan if you can help out:

o JBA 4 inch lift kit for Jeep Liberty, KJ, 2002-2007
o JBA Dana 30 Steel Front Axle IFS
o ARB Air locker front and rear
o ARB Compact On-board Air Kit
o ARB Bull Bar for Jeep Liberty
o Warn XD9000 Winch
o BF Goodrich All Terrain T/A KO LT245/70R16/D
o ARB E-Z Delator Kit
o Hi-Lift Jack HL-484 48”
o Front Runner Wind Cheetah Slimline Roof Rack 1.8M with Tent Mount hardware
o Eezi Awn T Top – Xklusiv – 1.6 roof top tent
o Eezi Awn Series 2000 1.5M “spoyla”
o Front Runner Stainless Steel Camp Table
o Cleanwaste Go Anywhere Portable Toilet
o Cleanwaste Go Anywhere Toilet Kit, pack of 100
o National Luna Weekender 50 Liter Split Fridge Freezer, Aluminum 

Miracles on the wing: bird migration

Five billion.

That’s roughly how many birds migrate each spring and fall—just in North America.

The physical feats performed by many of those birds make the accomplishments of Olympic athletes seem laughable by comparison. A Ruby-throated Hummingbird—which weighs five grams fully fattened for the journey, the same as a nickel—flies non-stop across the Gulf of Mexico, 500 miles in 22 hours. At the end of that flight it weighs about the same as a penny, perhaps three grams. For comparison, a 150-pound human marathon runner can lose four pounds during the 26.2-mile race. Imagine a single event that could strip 50 pounds off him. 

Other flights are equally astonishing. Arctic Terns make the longest migration known—22,000 miles round trip from the Arctic to the Antarctic. In 2007, using satellite tags, scientists tracked the longest non-stop migration flight ever recorded when a shorebird called a Bar-tailed Godwit flew from Alaska to New Zealand—7,145 miles—without pausing to rest, eat, or drink. About 70,000 godwits make this trek each year.

These are superlatives, but each of those five billion migrating North American birds—along with billions more across the planet—performs its own, well, superhuman feat.

Why do they do it? The answer lies entirely within the phenomenon of seasonal change. Every year, the latitudinal zones of greatest productivity in the Northern and Southern Hemispheres shift north and south by thousands of miles with increasing and decreasing solar exposure. Arctic tundra covered in ice and 24-hour night in January is by July burgeoning with life and sunshine. Even states in the northern U.S. change dramatically month to month. Birds that make the trek from warmer winter climes to these rich summer grounds can vastly enhance their food intake and subsequent reproductive success—the end goal of all living things.

If they survive.

For the downside to migration is that it is immensely hazardous, exposing the bird to starvation, predation, dehydration, hypo- and hyperthermia—a catalog of risk. It’s impossible to guess how many thousands of those Ruby-throated Hummingbirds come up just short of the fearsome amount of energy needed to complete their flight, and fall into the sea. A bird that arrives early at its summering grounds can get a head start on territory and breeding—or it can die during a late freeze. Many predators have evolved to prey specifically on migrating birds during peak movement periods. It’s estimated that over 60 percent of some species’ populations fail to make a complete two-way migration.

Partially because of these risks, only about half the estimated 10,000 bird species on earth are migratory (many tropical species don’t need to migrate, thanks to the stable year-round climate in their habitat). The percentage of migratory species varies country to country depending on climate. For example, fully 90 percent of Canadian birds migrate south to the U.S. or beyond each winter. 

The good news for humans is that, twice each year, migration offers a wildlife viewing spectacle beyond compare. Across the U.S. and Europe, known migratory flyways—the routes used by a majority of species due to abundant water and food—attract thousands of people, from avid “twitchers,” as they’re known in Britain, to those with a simple sense of wonder who couldn’t care less if the 200 hawks passing overhead at once at Cape May, New Jersey, are Sharp-shinned or Cooper’s. 

But even backyard birdwatching peaks during spring and fall. Check your local Audubon Society website to find out what’s happening when near your home—or along the route of your travels. Here are a couple of links to get started:

Migration hotspots

200 North American birdwatching spots

Elvis Munis, riding from Chile to Kili, is in the U.S.

Click image to enlarge

28,000 Miles • 2 Years • 47 Countries

Meet Elvis Munis—he’s cycling around the world, unsupported, for two years to raise funds for education for fellow Tanzanian students in wildlife conservation.

In July, Elvis crossed into the U.S. from Mexico, and he's in Tucson, Arizona, right now giving presentations and talking to organizations about support for his cause. He'll be heading to the west coast in August, before heading north to Alaska and west to Russia and beyond.

Chile to Kili was conceived by the 25-year old Tanzanian student and naturalist after he identified one of the major conservation problems in his country: the lack of opportunity for Tanzanians to obtain the education necessary to manage their own natural resources.

The goal is to raise $100,000 as Elvis rides around thewold over the next two years – enough money for ten one-year conservation scholarships, and to support education at the Conservation Resource Centre (CRC).

Change must come from the inside.

Elvis left from Chile on January 1, 2012. He is riding, completely unsupported, around the world for 2 years in an effort to create opportunities for his fellow Tanzanians.

Chile to Kili: Driving change from the seat of a bicycle from ConserVentures on Vimeo.


Elvis is being the change he wants to see in the world.

What are you doing?

Support Change

Follow his progress


Blood & Leather Project launched on Kickstarter!


The Maasai cultural conservation project Blood & Leather launched today on Kickstarter.

Please take a few minutes to watch the short but exciting video, and then consider becoming a backer and share with your friends and family.


Kickstarter is "all or nothing" funding, so if we don't meet our $7,800 goal by August 4, we don't get funded!

ConserVentures booth at Overland Expo

Gary & Sharra Haynes at the ConserVentures safari booth. Click photo to see full gallery.Gary & Sharra Haynes (Gary runs our Resources for Rangers program) put together a beautiful, fun, and informative booth for ConserVentures at the 2012 Overland Expo (a major contributor to ConserVentures programs). In addition to several safari tents and furniture, they offered an old-fashioned (but digital) photo booth, where people could dress up in safari clothes and accessories, get their picture taken, and have it emailed to them (for a donation). Fun and successful! Click on the photo at left to see the full gallery.

Black market pet trade spurs scientists to hide new finds

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles spurred an increase in the black market trade for turtles and tortoises.It’s a powerful comment on the miraculous complexity of life on earth that scientists are still regularly discovering new species. Not just plants and insects, but everything up to large mammals—and a surprising number of reptiles and amphibians. Unfortunately, there’s a hazardous downside to these herpetological discoveries: A nasty subset of herp collectors in the U.S. and Europe covet rare species to add to their menageries. Not only do these twisted individuals not care that it’s against the law to import or keep such animals, the very designation of “threatened” or “endangered” adds to the cachet of the acquisition. The rarer the better—consequences to the wild population be damned.

A recent BBC News story of a handsome species of newt discovered in Laos in 1999. The biologist who recorded it, Bryan Stuart, innocently published an article describing the black-and-yellow animal and its habitat. Six years after Stuart’s paper was published, the newt was nearly extinct in the wild, the result of massive collecting by locals to feed the black market pet trade.

Charismatic megafauna

It’s hard to get people excited about grass. 

Even when you’re trying to preserve habitat and are addressing a receptive, card-carrying environmentalist audience, “Plant more Schizachyrium scoparium!” just doesn’t have the same impact as “Save the wolf!” or “Bring back the buffalo!” 

It’s useless to point out breathlessly that grass, and all plant material down to simple green algae, is the primary and utterly indispensable route through which the sun’s energy makes possible every living thing we see around us. Scant few citizens can be motivated to write their congressional representatives on behalf of phytoplankton.

Think of all the nature shows you’ve seen. There’re guys wrestling alligators and anacondas, there’s Beverly Joubert filming lions fighting hyenas from five feet away (at night), there are divers spurning cages to swim among great white sharks, there’s Timothy Treadwell cuddling grizzlies (wait—that one didn’t turn out so well, did it). Have you ever seen a nature show featuring a rugged-looking guy in a khaki shirt and three-day beard replanting short-grass prairie sod? Have you ever seen any gripping nature show featuring plants?

No, Extreme Loggers doesn’t count.

Traveling to Support Democracy

Teen girls at Karnak Temple spent 15 minutes talking with ConserVentures directors Roseann Hanson and Diane Boyer on a recent trip to Egypt.If some of our friends and family thought we were foolish for regularly traveling to Mexico, the reaction when we announced we were going to Egypt was incredulity. “Where? Are you nuts?” 

It didn’t help that, shortly after we left Cairo to explore the Western Desert, several Americans were detained by the army (to breathless headlines in the U.S.), and two women tourists and their guide were kidnapped in Sinai by fractious Bedouin nomads.

It developed that the detained individuals, who worked for a couple of NGOs, were allegedly misusing funds to engage in political activities, a big no-no for a tax-exempt organization, and the tourists, who were released within hours, commented on the generous hospitality shown by their kidnappers, and retained no animosity at all. Nevertheless, fears for our safety spiked.

Meanwhile, blissfully ignorant of all this, in every oasis and neighborhood we visited we were continually accosted by people who asked where we were from, and on being told “America,” grabbed us, shook our hands, and said, “Thank you so much for coming!” Some were near tears. Everywhere people shouted, “America number one!” and, “Obama!” with big thumbs-up. We lost count of the demands to have our photos taken with residents; there’s no telling how on many Facebook pages we now co-star.

*terra* Annual 2011 Issue is out

The 2011 Annual Issue of our publication, *terra,* is now available for download (free as a PDF or iPad version, with app from Magcloud.com) or for $15 in a beautiful print version. For details, please see our *terra* page. If you are an active volunteer or have donated $50 or more, you will receive your copy in the mail in late January 2012. 

Cows, chocolate, & cats

Mt. lion at Rincón de Guadalupe; click to enlargeCow . . . cow . . . cow . . . two cows . . . cow nose . . . cow tail . . . mountain lion . . . cow . . .

What? Go back.

Six of us were crowded around our little Canon G10, using its LCD screen to review the images from the trail camera fixed securely to a nearby oak tree. Out of several hundred photos, the majority showed either cows, the single squirrel that—unbeknownst to us when we placed the camera—lived in the tree on the left side of the frame and indulged itself in repeated self-portraits, or just apparently empty creekside landscape, the result of wind, an overenthusiastic camera sensor, or invisible extraterrestrials—one is never sure. 

But between the cows and aliens the Bushnell Trophy Cam had recorded a fascinating cross-section of the life in this remote canyon in Mexico’s Sierra Madre. 

Game Rangers from two continents and two cultures find a lot in common

Despite a language and culture gap many would consider formidable, two law enforcement rangers from the U.S. Park Service bonded instantly with a group of 28 Maasai game scouts from the South Rift in Kenya.

During an intensive, ConserVentures-sponsored three-day workshop held at the Lale’enok Resource Center, about 90 miles south of Nairobi, Gary Haynes and Michael Hardin shared their training and experience in tactics for tracking poachers who might be armed and capable of laying an ambush to surprise their pursuers. In return, Gary and Michael were embraced as brethren by the Maasai rangers, who quickly recognized and valued their shared professionalism and similar challenges, and who gave as good as they received in explaining fieldcraft relevant to the African bush. Michael Lenaimado, head of the scouts and fluent in Maa and English, translated throughout the training, but after the first day or two much of the one-on-one interaction seemed to take place more by telepathy than talking. 

[For photos and video, see our Gallery and Videos pages]

Workshop Completed

The workshop has come to a very successful close the final day wrapped up with a crime scene management session. The rangers and the instructors had a fantastic time, sharing and learning a great deal. We will post more images in about 2 weeks, we are leaving to take the instructors and volunteers on a safari in Kenya and Tanzania.

Anti-poaching workshop in Kenya

Scouts demonstrating a poacher's snare.The Maasai game scouts in Kenya’s South Rift Valley will soon have extra skills—and some extra equipment—in their arsenal, to help them to continue protecting the rich wildlife of the Shompole and Olkirimatian communities.

ConserVentures has hired Gary Haynes, a retired law enforcement officer with the U.S. Park Service, to lead a seminar in early October to lead a professional development seminar in early October to teach 35 scouts additional skills in tactical anti-poaching tracking. Gary was trained in man-tracking techniques by such specialists as David Scott Donelan, a veteran of the bush wars in southern Africa in the 1970s and 1980s. Assisting Gary will be Michael Hardin, a currently serving law enforcement officer with the Park Service who has extensive experience tracking and pursuing smugglers and fugitives throughout the western U.S., and ConserVentures volunteers Mike McCarthy of Park City and Bill Meilhan of Texas.