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Trip report Kenya August '05

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I left Logan Airport on time. I had purchased a transformer to step-down the electric current in Kenya from 240 to 110 for use with my new DVD player I was taking with me and thought perhaps going through X-ray it might be a problem because it was a large black metal box packed in my check-in luggage. I had stapled a picture from the box to the handle of my duffel and no-one questioned it thank goodness. The flight to Amsterdam was great. Had a three hour layover there and took off on time for Nairobi. Both flights were completely packed, as usual. We arrived in Nairobi a little before 8 p.m. I was the first in line for visas so didn’t have any wait. This is the first time in eight trips though that I was stopped by a Customs officer. Luckily she just asked me what I was bringing with me and I just said safari gear and she let me pass without actually opening my duffel (which was loaded with small gifts for friends as well as three expensive veterinary books I was taking to the Tsavo-Amboseli veterinarian)! Exiting the airport to find my safari company I discovered my favorite guide there to meet me. He had just driven in from the Mara, heard I was arriving and had come to the airport to welcome me before going home to sleep. Anyone that has Joshua from Southern Cross Safaris as a guide is truly lucky. I was taken to the Holiday Inn Mayfair for a few hours sleep before flying to Amboseli.

At 6 a.m. the next morning headed for Wlson Airport for the 7:30 flight to Amboseli. In the past the plane has been a small 10 – 12 seater. However, on this day it was a 50 passenger plane and it was full! It was really cloudy that day and we couldn’t see anything until we were low enough to land. I was met by my Amboseli driver, Lemomo and the head of Ol Tukai’s guest relations, Rachel, both old friends of mine. We went immediately to the lodge where I checked in and was given my favorite room on the elephant viewing side of the lodge. I quickly unpacked my duffel and went to the car park to meet Lemomo again for a 10 a.m.. game drive. I love doing the later game drives anyway. At Ambosesli most of the people go out early on game drives because they want to see lions with their kills. Since I am more an elephant person and know that the elephants don’t come into the park until about 9:30 or 10:00 a.m., I prefer going out later. Not only to I see “my elephants” but we have the park almost to ourselves. No traffic jams. I shared the vehicle today with a great couple from England. Julie was also an elephant lover so we got along well. She told me how marvelous “The Elephant Diaries” were in England and said she would send me a DVD so that I could view it before it is shown here in the U.S. (not til March 2006 on Animal Planet)!!

The next day I awoke to the cold. In the past Amboseli might have been cool at night but day time was always fine for shorts. This time it was probably 45 – 50 degrees Fahrenheit, and knowing we would be riding in an open vehicle made me wear long pants and fleece jacket. We kept thinking the clouds would clear and it would warm up, but it didn’t. On my 9:30 game drive today I was joined by four young people from the Atlanta, Georgia area. Caroline is a professional photographer, Roger works at Georgia Tech,, Linda is a nurse and I am not sure what Dave’s occupation is. They all loved birds and it was fun sharing their excitement. By the end of their two days there, they too were becoming elephant people. Caroline was fascinated by the caring she saw with the elephant families.

The next morning when we headed out we spotted a wildebeest with an obviously fractured right foreleg. He will probably be a meal for the lions or hyenas tonight as he can hardly walk. We see what is probably thousands of Maasai cattle being herded into the area for water. Kenya Wildlife Service has posted rangers in the area to ascertain the the cattle are quickly watered and leave the park and don’t linger eating what little food is left for wildlife. The Kenyan government had put in a pipeline some time ago so the Maasai could water their cattle, but they didn’t like the idea of being kept out of the park and deliberately broke the pipeline.

Later in the day I was fortunate enough to go on a game drive with one of the elephant researchers and getting REALLY up close to the elephants. The researchers know every single elephant from Amboseli. They go out daily censusing the herds and noting who is missing, who is ill or injured, who has had a new baby, which bulls are in musth, etc. Without these girls being so diligent over the last 20 years there wouldn’t be many Amboseli elephants left now. Amboseli was the one place during the poaching holocaust that the herds managed to survive pretty well because the researchers were always around. The problem they had then is when the Amboseli elephants, particularly the large bulls, traveled into Tanzania they were often shot by hunters. I don’t know how these hunters can live with themselves shooting an almost “tame” Amboseli bull who will walk right up close to your vehicle. It doesn’t take any talent , bravery or daring to do that.

The elephants in Amboseli are still under stress today. For hundreds of years they have traveled to the swamps in Amboseli daily for their water and then late afternoons have gone to the tree line at the foot of Kilimanjaro to browse on the trees at night and sleep there. For years this was not a problem. However, lately many Maasai have moved into the area, some with cattle and some with gardens. Now when the elephants try eating their garden they spear them. When an elephant kills a cow it is speared. I find this fascinating because I have watched the elephants in the park for weeks and have NEVER seen an elephant going after another animal. Thus one has to wonder if it is the cattle herder who agitates the elephant to the point of going after the cow. In addition to spearing the elephant, the owner of the cow also demands reparations. In order to prevent more spearing, the researchers go out and investigate and if it looks like the animal was definitely killed by an elephant they pay the owner for the cow. When an wild animal is found injured the researchers call in the veterinarian and assist him in treating the injured animal. I was with them last August when a female elephant was darted and treated. These girls do their work with efficicency and caring. I was told that two weeks before I got there the oldest bull, Bad Bull, had been poison arrowed and died and also another of the older bulls, Masaku, had to be euthanized from wounds he sustained during a musth bull fight. There are now precious few old breeding bulls left in Amboseli, probably could count them on one hand. The female elephants don’t want any part of the younger musth bulls. Thus one wonders if the genetic pool will be compromised and one will see more and more genetic abnormalities in the future. Any way, for anyone who has ever been to Amboseli and enjoyed the elephants, please give thanks for Soila, Norah and Katito for the work they do seeing that the elephants are doing well.

The next day I got to go on game drives alone with Lemomo. Most people coming to Amboseli come with a safari company and go on drives with their driver. Those of us who fly in have the pleasure of Lemomo for a driver. Often In the past I have been in the vehicle alone with no other guests. Lemomo loves elephants as I do (two of his sisters are elephant researchers and another sister is a baboon researcher) so we could sit for hours and watch the elephants. We noted that the injured wildebeest was still alive!

One day we started out for our drive and came upon a wonderful scene A young male lion was babysitting four or five cubs while the females were preparing to hunt. We saw one female staring across the road and noticed a single wildebeest slowly approaching. It was interesting to see the lionesses in their crouching position inch forward until they were hidden by a palm tree. They waited and waited and eventually the wildebeest crossed the road. Then they made their move. Unfortunately one started out a little too early and the wildebeest fled. No meal that time! The females went back to where the babies were and it was a wonderful sight seeing the pride bond together. We also saw quite a few cheetahs this week. Don’t know if it was because the weather was cooler or what. Of interesting note was that land anywhere near the swamp looked green while land farther away was totally burned and dry.

On my last game drive at Amboseli we were watching a pride of nine lionesses and babies sleeping at the other side of the park when Lemomo got a call about something I had never seen before. We rushed to the swamp, with about 20 vans following us, to see a python strangling a gazelle. We watched for quite awhile but as it was getting dark we had to get back to the lodge. We were later told by a man in a private vehicle that he had stayed. The python started to ingest the head of the gazelle when all of a sudden the gazelles back legs started twitching, so the python extracted his mouth from the head and coiled all over again. I have spent eight weeks in the park and have never seen this before, so first timers, don’t expect to see this.

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