The SFS Center for

Water and Wildlife Studies




The SFS Center for Water and Wildlife Studies, located in southern Kenya, sits in the shadow of Africa’s tallest peak, Mt. Kilimanjaro. Acacia-dotted savannas, lakes, and mountain highlands make up some of Kenya’s many ecosystems providing habitats for an astounding diversity of flora and fauna including the Big Five – lions, elephants, leopards, buffalo, and rhinos.

The Center is nestled between three major national parks – Tsavo, Amboseli, and Chyulu Hills – which provide migratory wildlife corridors as well as communal grazing zones for Maasai livestock. Our research focuses on threats to water availability and their impacts on both human populations and wildlife conservation.

Issues we focus on


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Semester Program

Water, Wildlife, and Community

Spend your semester in the national parks and communities of Kenya, studying one of Earth’s most vital resources – water. Head into the field and learn how changes in water availability have cascading effects on Kenya’s spectacular ecosystems and those living in them. Study the root causes of these changes and how increased resource competition impacts wildlife behavior and human livelihoods. Learn More
Spring 2019


January 28 - May 8

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Who We Are

The SFS Center for Water and Wildlife Studies is led by research scientist Dr. Moses Okello. Dr. Okello joined SFS in 1999 as resident faculty, assuming role of Director in 2006. Known internationally as an expert in African elephant ecology and conservation, Dr. Okello has conducted a number of training workshops for Kenya Wildlife Services and provided consultancy services to the British Council in Kenya.

Featured Alumna

Kaitlyn Gaynor

Kenya Spring ‘09

“I credit my experience at The School for Field Studies for launching my career.”

I am currently conducting research on wildlife ecology and conservation in Mozambique and in northern California, as I pursue my PhD. Without a doubt, I credit my experience at the School for Field Studies for launching my career. My time at SFS gave me not only the skills to conduct field research and the theoretical knowledge to understand complex wildlife management scenarios, but it instilled confidence that I could…

Read more
Kaitlyn Gaynor Kenya Alum

Our Research

Africa is like no other landscape on Earth. Kenya’s spectacular wildlife, diverse ecosystems, and tribal communities face environmental threats such as climate change and decreased availability of important natural resources. Our research here focuses on understanding these threats and their impacts, with a primary focus on one of Earth’s most essential natural resources – water.

In the Maasai Steppe of southern Kenya, this finite resource is stretched in many directions. With continued human expansion and fragmentation of wildlife habitats, the immense pressure on this resource will only continue to grow.

Students at this Center gain a deep understanding of the evolution of the Kenya steppe ecosystem from river ecology to wildlife biology and human development. Studying the shifts in human demographics, land-use designations, and traditional Maasai livelihoods, students research conservation approaches to water management that will benefit all – the plants, the animals, and the humans.

Key Research Examples
  • Impacts of water availability on predator behavior
  • Human-wildlife conflict over natural resource availability
  • Community perceptions and expectations of national parks, wildlife sanctuaries, and conservation efforts
  • Impact of human activities on large mammal populations
  • Stream and river assessment and water management strategies
  • Protected area management models and effectiveness
  • Changes to the traditional rural livelihoods of Maasai
Select Publications

Okello, M. M., Kenana, L., Maliti, H., Kiringe, J. W., Kanga, E., & Warinwa, F. (2015). Population Status and Trend of the Maasai Giraffe in the Mid Kenya-Tanzania Borderland. Natural Resources, 6, 159-173.

Okello, M. M., & Novelli, M. (2014). Tourism in the East African Community (EAC): Challenges, opportunities, and ways forward. Tourism and Hospitality Research, 14(1-2), 53-66.

Okello, M. M., Kiringe, J. W., & Tome, S. (2014). Water quantity and quality dimensions in public and environmental health among the Maasai of Amboseli area, Kenya. Environment and Natural Resources Research, 4(3), 227-244.

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Having this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity has made my classes that much more significant.

Outlined by the rays of the setting sun, Maasai warriors performed their traditional ritual dance as their way to welcome us to their land. Their movements made with such vigorous elegance captivated me. Their hand-made jewelry, worn from their head to their toes, swung upward with every jump which made my eyes veer to the background where the steep shape of Mt. Kilimanjaro could be seen. The place-based learning of the Maasai culture, the Kenyan climate, and geographic features were presented all in one moment.

Jacqueline Cardoza
University of Vermont, Environmental Studies
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Community Collaboration

The SFS Center for Water and Wildlife Studies works closely with local community members, governmental bodies, NGOs, and other conservation partners as they all play an important role in guiding the Center’s research strategy. Data and recommendations gathered from the research we conduct is shared with community stakeholders so that together we can monitor and manage habitat degradation and land-use changes while finding balance between economic and conservation goals.

Students visit local markets and a neighboring boma (Maasai homestead) for traditional Maasai celebrations and perform outreach and community service work in local schools and villages. Students can discuss tribal culture with Center staff that come from various regions of Kenya and belong to several Kenyan tribal groups including Kamba, Maasai, and Luo.

Local Community Partners

  • International Fund for Animal Welfare
  • Kenya Wildlife Service
  • Local group ranches
  • Amboseli National Park

Contributing to the Community

  • Environmental awareness and education in wildlife management and conservation, wildlife population dynamics and movement
  • Scientific data and recommendations that are considered when setting sustainable resource management and conservation policies
  • Stewardship of natural resources through work with local farmers and pastoral communities, NGOs, and governmental agencies
  • Additional data to contribute to long-term monitoring of water resources
  • Employment opportunities for local community members

Life at the Center


The Center lies in the heart of Kenya’s Rift Valley, nestled between three world-famous national parks. The snow-capped peak of Mt. Kilimanjaro towers over miles of savanna, replete with a diversity of wildlife. Campus is a sprawling, grassy compound made up of traditional thatched bandas (cabins) and a central chumba (main building), not far from the friendly village of Kimana.

The Center

  • Group living in 4-person bandas
  • Chumba contains classroom, computer lab, study spaces
  • Kitchen and dining hall
  • Outdoor porch overlooking lawn area
  • 1-mile running trail on campus
  • Volleyball, soccer, Frisbee, and fire pit