President Stanley in Africa
President Samuel L. Stanley Jr., M.D. traveled to Madagascar and Kenya this summer to experience Stony Brook University’s commitment to improving lives around the world. During his two-week adventure, he visited three sites that feature some of Stony Brook’s most far-reaching research and development efforts.
Day Twelve - TBI-Ileret
The day began with a 45-minute flight from the TBI airstrip at Turkwel across Lake Turkana to TBI-Ileret. This short flight took us almost to the Ethiopia border on the east side of Lake Turkana. To travel between the two TBI sites by (unmade) road would have taken about four days in each direction.
On arrival we traveled to a Pleistocene fossil locality that Meave and Louise Leakey excavated last year, having found a partial jaw and face of an early hominid. Fossil hunting with Louise and Meave was very exciting and the site was rich in fossils from a wide range of mammals. Their ability to spot and to identify the fossils that they find is remarkable and requires detailed knowledge of the comparative anatomy of a wide range of mammals from rodents to elephants. All femora may look somewhat alike but when their sizes range from less than an inch to a yard they are very difficult to identify except by experts.
Returning to the TBI-Ileret campus we toured the ongoing construction. This project began in January. The main infrastructure (water and power) is complete and the dining facilities and first two cottages for scientists are close to completion. The next project will be to build a large laboratory building, student dormitories and dining facilities. Construction is expected to be completed within about 18 months. This will be another superb facility for Stony Brook faculty and students, as well as researchers from around the globe, and will open numerous research opportunities in a very remote but fascinating part of the world.
Meave and Richard Leakey then took us on a tour of stored fossils awaiting preparation and cleaning (including a skull of a crocodile that would have been more than 30 feet long) in the preparation lab, where four local people trained by the National Museum of Kenya now work full time to make specimens available for study and publication. The highlight of the tour was a new hominid face and upper jaw that will generate discussion and controversy among scientists (as evidenced by the spirited debate and disagreement among the anthropologists present as to how it should be classified). The wealth of evidence concerning human evolution that awaits discovery makes the completion of TBI an important priority so that research can be facilitated and accelerated.
Louise Leakey, a multi-talented member of Stony Brook's faculty, was our pilot for the return trip and flew us low so that we could see the extent of incursion into Sibiloi National Park by pastoralists and their herds. While we saw hippo, crocodiles, zebra and topi it was clear that much of this national park has been taken over by humans and their herds with the wildlife being driven out.
At the end of my visit to TBI, I am impressed by the accomplishments of scientists who have overcome great challenges to conduct research their during the last 45 years. I am excited by the wide range of important research that TBI will facilitate from human evolution to the extinction of dinosaurs, from the discovery of new species of bee to improved knowledge of the evolution of infectious disease through their insect vectors, to research on energy, food production and water.
Turkana Basin Institute gives Stony Brook a unique opportunity to make great contributions to many of these fields as well as to provide world-class facilities to support international researchers. These researchers will benefit from the infrastructure that we have been able to build with the generous support of enlightened philanthropists. TBI will enhance and expand Stony Brook's reputation as a research university of world wide importance. Having seen all that has been done and all that can be done, I am delighted to have been able to make this visit and look forward to working with the Leakeys and TBI Director Lawrence Martin to develop TBI to its full potential.