Back to Africa
|Patrick McLaughlin measures a new transect in preparation for conducting a primate survey among the calderas of Bioko Island, Equatorial Guinea.
Patrick McLaughlin ’05 (KSP fall ’04)
Why did you choose the KSP?
I saw the KSP as offering a lot of opportunities for fieldwork in ecology. I was interested in learning firsthand about conservation and ecological research, and this was a perfect way to get these experiences. Additionally, at that point in my academic and personal life, I wanted to explore a new place, I wanted an adventure, and I wanted to challenge myself with a new culture, environment and group of people. I saw the KSP as the perfect complement to my academic life at St. Lawrence.
What was it about your KSP experience that inspired or compelled you to stay involved with Africa?
One thing I learned very quickly on the KSP is that there is so much good, meaningful work to be done in Africa; even a small effort can have dramatic positive effects. I was interested in ecology and conservation, and there are few places better to explore and learn about either topic than East Africa.
The KSP has perfected the art of introducing and integrating students into life in East Africa. The professors strive to provide each student with a well-rounded understanding of the place, the people, the history, and the current state of affairs. Everyone associated with the KSP ensures you feel welcome and comfortable, such that our group felt like a large family. Everything we did and every place we visited was exciting, engaging and endlessly interesting.
I can safely say the KSP fundamentally changed the way I thought and helped me to figure out what I wanted to do in life, which is something every college student struggles with even after graduating. Today I am pursuing a graduate degree in ecology. I spend six months out of every year in West Africa doing research and working with a conservation organization, and in the summer I lead high school student expeditions focused on wildlife and conservation. I have no doubt that the KSP helped form the academic foundation and personal inspiration that has allowed me to pursue these opportunities.
Do you have a memorable story to share from your KSP?
During our stay in Shompole, we did a night-time wildlife survey in the safari vehicles. Our hope was to find lions, though they are often elusive and hard to see. After a few hours, with no luck, we had mostly given up hope, and most of us had fallen asleep. As we headed back to camp, I popped open the roof hatch to get a better view as we rolled through the thick brush. Just as my head cleared the roof, I looked out to our right, and staring back at me in the moonlight was a huge male lion. It just stood there, staring at me, about 20 feet away from the car. Our driver spotted it at about the same time, and stopped the car so we could watch. The lion eventually circled the car, walked through our headlights, glanced back in our direction, and then strode away into the night. I had a camera in my hand, but the excitement just froze me, so I never got a picture. It was the most memorable wildlife encounter I have ever had.
During my month-long independent study, I chose to work with the Pastoralist Integrated Support Program in northern Kenya’s Chalbi Desert. We spent three weeks traveling between small desert pastoralist villages that have been hit hard by drought, famine and tribal warfare. Our goal was to implement water-harvesting technologies for these communities, and provide basic aid in the form of food and water.
This was as difficult and exhausting an experience as I had ever had, both physically and emotionally. One night, during an eight-hour drive with some of the other program workers, we watched a huge storm roll across the desert in the distance. It was one of the most amazing things I have ever seen. The clouds were massive, reaching high into the air, and lightning rippled up through them, striking the ground every few seconds as well. Aside from this massive front of clouds, the rest of the sky was crystal clear, and the full moon that night was red, framing the entire scene and illuminating the desert. We drove for hours alongside the storm, and while it was miles away it seemed to chase us through the night. The entire experience was otherworldly, and the power of this storm was daunting, yet also reassuring as we knew that much-needed rain was falling in some of the areas we had just visited. The entirety of that experience, with where I was and what we were doing each day, made that night very poignant for me and it is one I will never forget.