ITALIANS IN KENYA
12-04-2022 by Freddie del Curatolo
More and more young Italians are choosing to study and are passionate about nature and animals and are able to turn this passion into a profession, deepening their knowledge in the field and making unique and exciting experiences.
And for these jobs, the "field" can only be Africa and often, in particular, Kenya.
Giacomo D'Ammando, a thirty-year-old Roman, is part of this group of young people who, often thanks to organizations that value and appreciate their expertise and desire to be part of an ethical and future-oriented world, manage to reconcile dreams with reality.
Giacomo works for "Save The Elephants" and lives in the Samburu reserve, where he manages various projects concerning the conservation of elephants. He introduces himself to Malindikenya.net and the Italians in Kenya.
"I deal with behavioral ecology, which would be the study of animal behavior in relation to the environment in which the animal lives - explains Giacomo - And I have always dealt with large African mammals, even though I grew up in the Roman suburbs. Antelopes of various species, giraffes, large carnivores, baboons, and chimpanzees, through my studies starting from my bachelor's degree at Sapienza University to my PhD. In the last ten years I have spent a lot of time in Africa, engaged in various research projects that have taken me to incredible places, almost always living in a tent and with an off-road vehicle as my office. From the Magaliesberg Mountains in South Africa to the Kalahari Desert in Botswana, from the Maasai Mara to the forests of western Tanzania. An incredible journey that made me learn a lot about this continent, about the conservation and socio-economic problems that plague it. But also about the incredible spirit of adaptation and the great hope for the future of the people who live there".
Giacomo is a predestined man. He describes himself as having been in love with Africa since he was a child, when he never missed an episode of SuperQuark and when his parents, who were passionate about travel, encouraged his passions and got involved in solidarity projects.
"I still remember my first trip to Africa, to Namibia, I must have been eleven years old... And in the end, I didn't want to go home. I really didn't want to leave those boundless spaces, also because I have always suffered from city life and its neuroses", says the researcher. "I fell in love with Kenya as soon as I set foot there... I was conducting research in the Maasai Mara on impalas, Thomson's gazelles and other antelopes, and I often interacted with young people from Maasai communities for environmental education projects. It was a dream come true. Today I do what I think is the most beautiful job in the world (others might object to sleeping in a tent 7 days a week in order to work!) and I divide my time between the elephants and the local communities in northern Kenya."
In Samburu, the young Italian works closely with the elephants, as at Save The Elephants these animals are extremely accustomed to cars and human proximity.
In addition, on a daily basis he manages the monitoring of specimens equipped with GPS collars, which is one of the main projects of the organization founded by zoologist and conservationist Iain Douglas Hamilton. GPS tracking lets them know which areas elephants prefer in different seasons, but also what impact infrastructure and human activities have on their movements and ability to find food, water, and other elephants.
"Being part of Save the Elephants is incredible, especially to work closely with Iain Douglas-Hamilton, arguably the world's foremost expert on elephants, and one of my "heroes" (I still have old issues of National Geographic on which I read about his battles against the ivory trade). The other incredible thing is working with so many young people from the Samburu, Turkana, and Borana communities, and being a bit of a "mentor" for them to become researchers in their own right. In fact, I am also a student, because I am learning so much from them, and from their unsurpassed knowledge of animals."
There is not only work for the Roman scholar, but also a daily routine made of complete interaction with nature.
"My favorite daily experience at Samburu is waking up with Sarara - reveals Giacomo - who is a young male elephant. He loves to come within a few inches of me, separated only by the wall of my tent. Obviously it becomes a bit more problematic when I have to go to the bathroom and Sarara doesn't decide to get out of the way! There are many adventures to be had in the savannah, such as the times I got stuck with an old Land Cruiser in the Mara, in the middle of a herd of angry buffaloes and a few steps away from a lion on the prowl. Alarming situations at the time, but which I look back on with much amusement in hindsight."
For now, James dreams of nothing more than being able to stay as long as possible in Samburu to increase his knowledge while being able to train Kenyan experts in African wildlife conservation.
"I want to focus on training Save the Elephants field staff," he explains, "one of my dreams is that the next great African wildlife conservation expert can come from Kenya to teach in Europe, and not the other way around.
In this, arguably, being an Italian may have advantages.
Yes, I have learned that Italians, in general, manage to be good friends with Kenyans," confirms Giacomo. "Maybe it's because we have the same propensity to look for ways out of difficult situations, first and foremost the lack of job opportunities. I would say that the only problems I have are about eating, especially the omnipresence of ugali, legumes, and boiled goat with all its hair. I remain nostalgic for pasta, pizza, and ice cream. But I've gotten used to the lack of them by now!"
(Photo courtesy of "Save The Elephants")
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