The afternoon after we climbed Mt. Longonot, we arrived at Nakuru Conservancy and went on our first game drive of the trip! Finally, we were able to open the roofs and stand in our vans. We explored Nakuru and were treated to the sight of owls, cape buffalo, waterbucks, grey crowned cranes, and our very first rhinos! There are two main rhino species in Kenya: white rhinos and the rarer black rhino, which is the species more preferred by dealers in rhino horn. Nakuru holds one of the largest rhino populations in Kenya of both these species and it was a joy to see them alive and well in a protected area—although the threat of poaching is never completely eliminated.
The following day we went on another game drive in the cool breeze of early morning. Almost immediately we spotted species we had never seen before on this trip. The biodiversity of birds was particularly aweing. Ostriches, the largest birds on earth, strutted near our vans. Guineafowl trotted by. The shores of Nakuru Lake were occupied by greater flamingos, lesser flamingos, and all kinds of storks. There were large hornbills calling from the trees, colourful lilac-breasted rollers perching from branches, and a male pin-tailed whydah flirting with a female by displaying his extensive tail plumage. All of this and more we saw in only a couple of hours wandering the park.
The large mammals were also out to greet us, and in particular we were gratified to see the juveniles of many species. The evidence that the wildlife is reproducing successfully is great from a conservation standpoint as well as being adorable to watch. Young baboons clung to their mothers’ backs; zebra foals frolicked across the road. We even caught a glimpse of two hippos sparring in the lake, mouths gaping.
We even had our first encounter with Big Cats: a pair of lionesses sleeping peacefully in the strong branches of a tree. Lions are charismatic megafauna, meaning they are large, popular animals that tourists (and Master’s students!) particularly wish to see. But more than that, predators play a vital role in any ecosystem. Carnivores do not simply reap the benefits of a healthy, productive habitat; they actively contribute to it and improve it by keeping the herbivore population in check. And that, my friends, is the Circle of Life.
That afternoon we drove to our next destination, Naru Moru in the shadow of the mighty Mt. Kenya. After setting up camp in an unseasonal pouring rain, we were delighted to meet up with a fellow Field Kenya group: the Behaviour and Biodiversity Course! We all swapped safari stories and then settled down to watch the night’s entertainment: the Kikuyu Cultural Experience.
The show was put on in the bar of a local hotel. Eight Kikuyu individuals shared with us some of their traditional dances and then invited us to join in. Things got a little, well, wild at some points when the performers donned costumes of African animals, but we all had a good laugh for sure!
That night we were serenaded by the calls of tree hyraxes. It was a haunting sound, like the shrieks of a dying animal, and it would have been alarming if we weren’t already told that it was only the communicating of a few small, furry mammals in the trees.
The following day we went on our second mountain hike of the trip, this time up Mt. Kenya! The path was not quite as steep as Mt. Longonot but it definitely got all of our hearts pumping. As we climbed we passed through several different types of habitat that are stratified on the mountain by elevation. There were low, wet woodlands and then bamboo forests higher up. A variety of turacos (lovely and colourful birds) crisscrossed overhead as we ascended and a few keen-eyed students on the course located chameleons hiding along the path.
When we reached the top of our climb we were at an elevation even higher than the peak of Mt. Longonot, and yet we had only achieved the launching point for the serious climbers. It would take far more time and specialized gear than we have available to achieve Mt. Kenya’s summit, but we were all breathless enough to be perfectly content with our accomplishment!
We ate lunch on the misty slope of the mountain while a large troop of Sykes monkeys watched us hungrily. The monkeys were used to being fed by humans and therefore had become bold enough to approach us directly and try to sneak food out of our packs.
The monkeys’ rudeness was partly annoying and partly amusing, but it did illustrate an important point that is relevant to conservation. Human-habituated animals are much more likely to become a problem and human-wildlife conflict is one of the biggest challenges to conservation in Kenya. The monkeys could be shooed away easily, but what options are available to communities when an elephant or a lion feels confident enough to potentially cause trouble right in the heart of towns and villages? Thinking of ways to minimize human-wildlife conflict and mitigate the incidents that do occur in a way that is best for both conservation purposes and human welfare is a key question to consider, and over the next few days we would be hearing a lot from conservancies about clever and effective ways to do exactly that.
After we descended Mt. Kenya we began packing up camp. Next stop: Ol Pejeta Conservancy!
Via Caitlin Fikes