Located on the Laikipia Plateau in north central Kenya, the Mpala Research Center and Wildlife Foundation situated on 49,000 acres of combined savanna and dry woodland habitat bordered by the Ewaso Ngiro and Ewaso Narok Rivers. The facility is operated as a partnership involving Princeton University, the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute, the Kenya Wildlife Service and the National Museums of Kenya. The property is maintained as a conservancy for native wildlife including large populations of African elephants, the endangered Grevy’s zebra, the reticulated giraffe, wild dogs, other large mammals as well as multiple species of birds.
The Mpala landscape also supports a working cattle ranch with approximately 2500 heads of cattle and other herds of domesticated livestock, an international research center, and two residential villages occupied by Mpala employees and their families.
Mpala’s institutional mission is to support research that improves ecosystem functions, conserves biodiversity and enhances the livelihoods of employees and their families who are predominantly traditional pastoralists. Princeton’s legacy ties to the property are due to the generosity of alumnus George Small who deeded interest in the Mpala Conservancy to the University.
Throughout the year, Princeton faculty, researchers, and graduate and undergraduate students visit the property to expand their knowledge of the African landscape and to undertake research involving both human and wildlife populations, land use, the hydrological cycle, and intersecting dynamics (humans-wildlife, water-land, etc.). In the spring semester, students enrolled in a twelve week long program (Semester in Kenya) visit the center for a sequential series of courses taught by Princeton faculty from the Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, the School of Engineering and Applied Science, the Program in African studies, and Columbia University on topics including: ecology and conservation on African landscapes,natural history of mammals, field ecohydrology, tropical agriculture, and biology of African animals and ecosystems.
In the summer months, student interns work with faculty and research professionals to explore myriad dimensions of sustainable development. At least two undergraduates each summer work with local Conservation Clubs to foster conservation initiatives by teaching through hands-on experiential learning.
Students participating in the field semester program and undertaking Devleopment Challenge research experiences later center their senior thesis on dimensions of the African landscape that involve independent research projects at the Mpala site.
The Grand Challenges Program has helped sponsor facility improvements to augment the research center for learning and teaching including dormitory units for visiting students, improved communications networks, and research amenities. With enhancements in place, the Mpala Centre provides the basic infrastructure to support multiple field research studies including work of faculty, research fellows, and graduate and undergraduate students.