Students from Princeton University discover that local legends can provide colorful context for scientific truths, while filming a series of short documentaries featuring the work wildlife researchers are doing at Mpala. During a riverside lunch break, they listen as Kenyan John Njuguna recounts the Curse of the Gazelle King. The story relates how long ago, the water gods became angry with gazelles for drinking so much water that there was not enough for other animals. So they banished them from water holes and made them get their water from the food they eat. To punish the male leader for his lack of judgment, they decreed that all dominant males would eventually become weak and lose their kingdoms, which is exactly what happened to the Gazelle King. The students realize immediately that the “curse” is probably a debilitating parasite that is transmitted to gazelles by slugs that the animals eat while grazing. They had just learned from Dr. Vanessa Ezenwa, a Mpala biologist, that dominant male gazelles are much more likely hosts for this parasite than females or males that live in bachelor herds. Dominant male gazelles today suffer the same fate as the gazelle in John’s story. But the parasite isn’t the whole answer. Scientists are still trying to figure out why it affects the gazelle kings more than females or bachelor males.
RIVER CAMP PRODUCTIONS: FILMMAKING BY KENYAN AND PRINCETON STUDENTS