Creatures Wild and Wonderful Thrive at a Living Lab in Kenya

The Mpala Research Centre offers a pristine environment for collaborative study on how humans and wildlife can coexist in the future

Zebra crossing a dirt road near Mpala Research Centre, Kenya
Zebra crossing a dirt road near Mpala Research Centre, Kenya Wikimedia Commons

The Mpala Research Centre in Kenya is the Smithsonian Institution's first permanent research facility in Africa. Mpala Ranch covers 50,000 acres on Kenya's mile-high Laikipia Plateau and the terrain supports an astonishing roster of "charismatic megafauna" including elephants, lions, cheetahs, leopards, monkeys, giraffes, hippos, zebras, buffalo and gazelles, along with ostriches, eagles, puff adders and cobras.

Mpala has long been a working cattle ranch not a wildlife sanctuary, and that makes it uniquely valuable for research. Most wildlife scientists in Africa do their fieldwork in officially protected national parks and reserves. Yet most of the wildlife lives outside the parks. With human populations surging and animal habitats shrinking, Kenya and other countries urgently need to find ways for people, livestock and wildlife large mammals in particular to coexist on the same land without destroying it or one another. The Mpala Research Centre is a living laboratory to test the ways that humans and wildlife can coexist.

The center is a joint venture of the Smithsonian, Princeton University, the Kenya Wildlife Service, the National Museums of Kenya and the Mpala Research Trust. Researchers representing all the organizations, many from the Smithsonian, are drawn to Mpala to study the workings of the center's remarkable ecosystems. Officially opened in 1994, Mpala is already a magnet for collaborative research.

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