We spent the last two days trapping birds on and around Lake Naivasha. One group loaded up in the van and drove the road that circumnavigates the lake to do a road count of resident raptors with the hopes of trapping and banding some while the other group climbed into boats armed with fish to trap African fish eagles. The next day, we switched.

A brave little mouse was our lure on land. Safe within its cage that was set with fine fishing line snares, an augur buzzard immediately descended, got tangled, and Munir and Evan jumped to release him.

Munir and Evan band an augur buzzard / Meera Subramanian

Banding, or ringing, of birds helps biologists track bird populations over time and geography.

Maria holds the augur buzzard before releasing it. / Meera Subramanian

It’s also a chance to experience and learn about the birds up close.

Augur buzzard / Meera Subramanian

As its mate waits in a nearby tree, the buzzard calmly lets us affix the ring to its leg.

Drew releases the next bird, in perfect form, as a curious local looks on. / Meera Subramanian

Meanwhile, on the water, Shiv leads the African fish eagle trapping. First, Shiv shows us how to get our hands dirty, using a carp fish as a lure and setting snare lines through it.

Shiv holds a carp with snares. / Meera Subramanian

Shiv holds a fish eagle, calm with its eyes covered. / Meera Subramanian

Fish eagle populations are doing well at Lake Naivasha, but only more studies will determine whether they are being effected by pollution, changes in the ecosystem and water quality, or the lead that remains from decades of bird hunting on this lake.

Maria and Drew watch as Shiv bands a bird held by Chege. / Meera Subramanian

In the afternoon, we visit two flower farms to see their wetlands water filtration system. Homegrown produces both flowers and vegetables.  Oserian is one of, if not the largest flower farm company in Kenya, and a major player in the Naivasha region. Representatives from Oserian came to Elsamere to make a presentation about their company’s ethics, mission and policies. Both companies raise interesting questions about fair trade certification and what it really means. Oserian was proud that they are paying their full-time workers 7,900 shillings per month, which is about a hundred dollars US. Some workers also receive housing, school for their children and health care, but a hundred dollars is still not much money for a month’s labor.

As for their environmental practices, both companies claim to not use WHO Class I pesticides, listed as extremely hazardous. Oserian opts for Integrated Pesticide Management (IPM) instead. What chemicals they are using to produce a million stems of cut flowers each day, though, they refuse to reveal. Both site visits displayed a small area with a series of water containment areas that were filtering not the water coming from the flower production area, but the water from the kitchens, laundries, etc. It was impressive, visually, going from this:

First intake pool. / Meera Subramanian

To this:

Last pool. / Meera Subramanian

Last pool. / Meera Subramanian

But where is the rest of the water that makes it back to Lake Naivasha, untreated and unfiltered? And what, exactly does it contain? What might be in the bodies of the fish that are caught and eaten from the lake? No one, at this point, seems to know.

Oserian shows us their wetlands. / Meera Subramanian

St. Lawrence University’s public health course and conservation media course joined together to visit Kibera, Africa’s largest slum. An estimated one million people inhabit 250 hectares on the edge of Nairobi – an area the size of New York’s Central Park – only walls topped with broken bottles and barbed wire separating them from the surrounding middle-class housing and green agricultural lands lush from this year’s heavy rains. Contained, Kibera is a sloped sea of corrugated metal roofing linking one home to the next. The rusty roofs blend with the red earth.

The staff of SODIS (Solar Water Disinfection) greet us. Their crisp white t-shirts and matching baseball caps are emblazoned with an explanation: Solar Water Disinfection, and in parenthesis, SODIS. Tibu Maji kwa Miale ya Jua.  A bright yellow sun shines upon plastic bottles filled with clean blue water. The premise they’re promoting is simple. Fill a clear plastic bottle with water. Place in the sun for six hours in the middle of the day. Longer if it’s cloudy. UV light kills much of the bacteria that causes diarrhea, the leading cause of death in children who live in the developing world. To educate people, SODIS goes door-to-door, meet children’s and women’s groups, visit schools, and attend soccer games, teaching people how to at least partially treat water, especially for consumption by kids five and under. Little habits such as keeping soap in the house and washing hands after using the toilet get woven in. We got to visit school groups, a biogas toilet/shower facility and see inside the homes of several residents.

After Kibera, the Conservation Media group peels off from the public health group and heads to Lake Naivasha, a little over an hour’s drive from the city, but a whole world apart. We arrive to a bit of rain at sundown, and are welcomed to the Elsamere Field Centre with a warning to have an askari (guard) escort us to our rooms, since the hippos emerge from the lake at night to graze on the grass among the buildings!