After a successful week at Mpala, students are thrilled by being exposed to all the wildlife there. Beautiful giraffes, elephants and lots of antelopes. With the staring of the second week of the Ecology module, students arrived at TBI Ileret where the environment is totally different.

On our flight north, students had a chance to see one of the most beautiful lakes in Kenya: Lake Turkana. Lake Turkana is known as the Jade Sea by the local people and the name is well justified: most part of the lake is amazingly scenic. Previous field school students used to go to the Central Island of Lake Turkana where flocks of flamingoes are feeding and breeding. This year, students will experience something completely different by staying at TBI Ileret, where the Origins Field School is held for the first time.

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South Island of Lake Turkana from Air Turkana plane

Ileret is a small town in Northern Kenya where the Dassanech people live. Only a several miles south of the Kenyan-Ethiopian border, it is one of the most remote places in the world. Unlike Mpala in Laikipia, Ileret is more desert-like with high temperatures and low humidity throughout the day. Students have acclimatized very well at TBI and we have had a few field excursions so far.

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Sunset at Ileret, very dry and dusty

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Typical view outside of the Ileret area, sedimentary or volcanic rocks with little vegetation

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Dorm room where the students are living at Ileret

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Delicious lunch is being served

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Students are taking a break from class, working on their research projects

Together with Dr. Dino Martins, students have been learning about the unique vegetation of the desert. Many of the plants here have different adaptations to the extremely dry environment where rain may not fall for 5 months. We are currently in the middle of the long dry season so most of the plants have shed their leaves to reduce water loss. Some other plants are either succulent or have protective hair or wax on their leaves to reduce water loss. Along river beds, large trees develop extremely deep roots through which they can take up water from deep ground water and therefore, can afford to retain their leaves throughout the year.

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Dr. Dino Martins (far right) looks at a common plant that grows on dried river beds

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Boyu, Kennedy and Taylor are looking cool in the desert sun!

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Students examine a desert rose

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Taylor and Kennedy are debating about plant reproductive strategies

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Meg and Laura counting how many seeds are in a seedpod of the desert rose

Living around traditional pastoralist communities, students also looked at overgrazing around the TBI Ileret compound by measuring how much biomass of a desert plant Indigofera has been grazed by cattle and goats. The difference in plant height is apparent between outside and inside TBI where there is minimal amount of grazing.

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Kenneth and Tristan measuring the height of an Indegofera plant

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Abel and Boyu take a read from the tape measure

Despite being in the middle of a desert, the huge and almost fresh-water lake has created some unique environment of its own. Students went to the lake shores with Dr. Martins to learn about the hidden facts of Lake Turkana.

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Students learning about the fluctuation of lake levels and its influence to the plants

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Always alone, the Goliath Heron

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A catfish found on the beach

It is always good to have a bit of swim after a long hot day’s work. It is particularly true when you can swim in Lake Turkana! The lake is not as deep as a proper swimming pool but students have had a lot of fun!

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Into the lake we go!

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Silhouette of the swinmmers

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The lake is fun!

TBI is not only home for us, but also home for other desert creatures such as this baby savanna monitor lizard found hiding in the classroom!

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Dr. Martins holding the baby monitor lizard

Stay tuned for the next blog!