|Former General Counsel Howard Ende now serves as president of the Mpala Wildlife Foundation. In addition to lions, like the one pictured here that was sedated when Ende was near it, the Mpala property in central Kenya is home to elephants, zebras, giraffes, cheetahs, wild dogs, impalas and other wildlife.
"I don't look at it as a retirement or a resignation, but as a transition to a new position in which I can continue to serve Princeton," Ende said in March 2001 when he announced his plans. The center focuses on ecological and social sciences education and research, and is administered by the Mpala Research Trust, a collaborative undertaking by the foundation, the Kenya Wildlife Service, the National Museums of Kenya, the Smithsonian Institution and Princeton.
Ende has spent the last year and a half finishing his term as general counsel, then serving as senior counsel. He also has been traveling to Kenya and preparing for his next adventure.
Ende first learned about Mpala through his work. A dozen years ago, he began assisting George Small, a 1943 Princeton graduate, in setting up a trust. Small owned 47,000 acres in Kenya, and wanted to dedicate that property to preserving the land, wildlife and natural resources of the region and to improving the quality of life of area residents. The center opened in 1994 and today is the premier facility of its kind in sub-Saharan Africa, according to Ende.
He traveled to the center several times over the years as the University's representative to the trust, including spending a six-week sabbatical there in 1998. "As I got to know George Small, I was incredibly impressed with his commitment to Princeton and to this project," Ende said. "Over the years, we discussed the long-term management of the project. At George's request, I thought I would get more involved when I could."
Ende's involvement became more critical in recent years as Small's health began to fail and he was unable to continue overseeing the center's activities. "I had to start thinking about what that meant for me," Ende said. "I decided this would be a good time to 'reinvent' myself and transition into this new project."
Taking the reins of the foundation this fall is somewhat bittersweet for Ende -- his friend George Small died on Sept. 16, 2002. Upon his death, the entire Mpala property -- to which Small had added 3,500 acres for the research center -- was turned over to the foundation.
Ende is charged with seeing that the foundation achieves the goals that Small and its board have set forth for the property. He expects to spend about three months out of each year in Africa. The rest of the time, he will be in Princeton coordinating activities with the foundation trustees, with people at the University who conduct research at Mpala and with Smithsonian staff members, who are deeply involved in the activities at Mpala and who also provide important assistance with fund raising.
The property and its research center will continue to be available to students and scientists from around the world as a "field station," but it also may move in some new directions, Ende said.
"Historically, we've acted as a facility to host visiting scientists who come with their own projects and their own funds," he said. "Over the past half a dozen years, the foundation and the research center have been moving in a direction to expand what we do. Specifically, at the research center, we have developed and recently adopted a three-year strategic plan that is geared to enable us to pursue our own institutional research agenda, more focused toward addressing some of the imperative needs of the local communities. We're hoping to conduct projects such as monitoring a variety of environmental and ecological data -- rainfall, temperatures, number of wildlife, domesticated animals, people and a variety of other critical factors -- so we can start developing benchmarks and databases which will enable future scientists to utilize that long-term data in their own projects. That's a critical move forward."
Ende noted that the research center is often filled to capacity with some 35 students and scientists. The property is an ideal place for many kinds of research, boasting an estimated 800 plant species, 280 native bird species and animals ranging from elephants, zebras and giraffes to cheetahs, wild dogs and impalas. The research center has a small staff and includes dormitories and short-term camping areas, three labs, a computer facility, a greenhouse, animal holding space, a herbarium/specimen collections room, darkroom and offices.
Dan Rubenstein, professor of ecology and evolutionary biology, has been a frequent visitor to Mpala to conduct research on zebras, often bringing students along on his trips (see story on opposite page).
"When I started out doing research, I had a tent and I hired two or three people to cook and guard the tent," he said. "I spent many hours a day just getting food and making sure the water was safe. With the research center, all that gets done. Scientists can get up in the morning, eat and go -- we can spend more time in the field. We can come back to a place where there is electricity, where we can work on computers 24 hours a day. We have laboratory equipment so we can do more than just record our work in notebooks."
Ende noted that Rubenstein and Nicholas Georgiadis, director of the research center, were instrumental in obtaining a National Science Foundation grant that is funding the construction of a new laboratory. He said some consideration is being given to further expanding the research center, although a variety of issues first would have to be addressed.
"There's a lot of interchange of ideas at the center -- partially, in my view, because of the relatively small size of the operation," he said. "However, there are so many wonderful projects, we don't want to preclude people from coming there and doing great research. We can build things for relatively little amounts of money, but there is stress on a variety of resources. Water is a constant issue. We need to assure ourselves we have enough water to continue the operation."
While expanding the center is still a question, enlarging the mission of the foundation is not. "The foundation has broadened its mission to not only raise funds to support the work at the research center, but also to support a number of other important community initiatives," Ende said.
The foundation operates the Mpala Mobile Clinic, a vehicle staffed with nurses that visits 25 local communities every month. In the last two years, the clinic has attended to more than 25,000 people, providing immunizations, basic medicine, AIDS/HIV education programs and family planning information.
The foundation also has turned the original 47,000 acres into a land and wildlife conservancy. The property historically has been operated as a ranch and still is home to some 3,000 head of cattle. The cattle ranch plays a critical political and social role in the community by providing employment and productive use of the land, Ende said.
The cattle, which are ranched in the traditional Massaai manner, co-exist well with the wildlife in the conservancy. "We have, at any given time, up to a thousand elephants residing on our property," he said. "When they migrate, they have patterns of staying in one place for a long time and, at night, moving very quickly through areas that are less safe to areas that are more safe. We are working very closely with all of our neighbors to create corridors for safer migration."
This sort of work ties in with some of the foundation's community outreach programs, Ende said. "We are working with local communities to develop projects which will help sustain them economically, and hopefully also give them an economic interest in preserving the wildlife," he said. "We are working with one of our neighboring communities to develop a small ecotourist lodge. We're trying to show them that these animals can bring money for books and better water and not just bring trouble because they trample crops and houses and attack cattle and goats.
"We're working with these local communities to help them better understand the importance of wildlife to their economic well-being and the economic well-being of Kenya in general," he continued. "Kenya is not a country that has natural resources like gold or diamonds or oil. But it is a beautiful country with fantastic wildlife and wonderful people. That's what we're trying to develop."
The foundation also is funding the construction of local primary schools and providing scholarships for students to attend secondary schools. In the future, it is hoping to raise funds for fellowships for Kenyan students to come to the Mpala Research Center to do work on master's degrees and then to move them into Ph.D. programs in Africa, the United States and Europe.
All of these activities are part of the vision of George Small, according to Ende. "When George saw he could no longer continue to oversee this project, he asked the people on his board if they would continue to oversee the activities and assure the long-term viability of this project," he said. "Each and every one of us said yes we would. We're all committed to ensuring that George's vision for Mpala is one that comes fully to fruition. We want to assure that his legacy is something even more than he imagined. We're rapidly moving in that direction."
Ende also serves on the board of Princeton-in-Africa, an organization formed to facilitate service fellowships in Africa for recent Princeton graduates. He noted that he currently has a Princeton-in-Africa Fellow, Jessica Hickok, a member of the class of 2002, assisting him with his work through the end of this year. She will spend nine months in 2003 in Africa. He also is working to develop more interest in research on social issues. Last summer, a graduate student from the Woodrow Wilson School conducted a survey of landowners in the Mpala area as part of her internship.
He also mentioned that a Princeton presence on the trust board will continue in the future. The University has appointed Vice Provost Joann Mitchell to serve in Ende's former spot on the board.
In between his travels and work on behalf of Mpala, Ende will continue to live in Princeton and to keep a hand in the law: He has joined the Princeton office of Drinker, Biddle and Reath, a national law firm based in Philadelphia, in an "of counsel" capacity.
Ende said he is leaving the Office of General Counsel with mixed emotions. "I love Princeton and have had a wonderful experience here," he said. "But I've been doing it a long time, and the opportunity to do something a little different and to continue a connection with Princeton and to be of service in this way is very appealing to me. There are some great challenges ahead, but it's really a very exciting project."
More information about the Mpala Wildlife Foundation is available by contacting Howard Ende at:
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