The Conservation Science and Policy team waved goodbye to the Biodiversity team at Nairobi airport ad rolled through the warm African night to our first destination: Kiboko Sanctuary or Oscar’s Camp, near Nairobi National Park – Kenya’s first national park, created in 1946. If our arrival was anything to go by, this is going to be an incredible couple of weeks. Even in the dark, we glimpsed spotted hyena, wildebeest and Thompson’s and Grant’s gazelles, silhouettes against the lights of Nairobi, while spring hares bounce through the van headlights; an impromptu night safari and just a taste of what’s to come.
We were greeted at the gates to the sanctuary compound by Impy, Oscar’s impala who had been abandoned at less than an hour old; Oscar had taken her in and brought her up himself – a tame impala, if you will. At eight months old she was beautiful, friendly and cheeky, nibbling and licking anything mildly salty; “She thinks she’s people” Oscar said.
After a late-night tent-pitching session, we were given an easy-going morning, allowing us to explore our surroundings, admiring the acacia trees where vervet monkeys sat, peering at us. We variously looked for birds, butterflies and other wildlife; some eager volunteers even had the chance to help Richard with butterfly netting.
Local tribal chief and general eagle-eyed legend, Nixon, guided us on our first walking safari. We were surprised to see so much so soon: in the distance were zebra, impala, gazelles, even a white rhino! While most of us struggled to spot wildlife even with our binoculars, Nixon identified animals way off in the distance with the naked eye; “If you want to see well, live in a house where they burn dry cow dung” was his tip for super-human vision.
We sat a couple of hundred metres away from three beautifully elegant giraffes, as Nixon told us about the wildlife in the area and the challenges facing both local wildlife and communities. Land subdivision is a big problem for wildlife, particularly where it blocks corridors between key habitats. The local communities have banded together to create a conservancy with the aim to preserve wildlife in the interests of the community. These conservancies are growing in number across Kenya and are a great example of communities taking control of their resources and leading the way in conservation initiatives.
In order to practice running focus groups for research, we conducted a session with our guides, asking them about their thoughts and feelings on eco-tourism and wildlife. How interesting to hear them speak so passionately about the animals they see through their work, and the challenges they face as tour guides in conducting tours sensitively, to minimise the impact on wildlife. It was great preparation for our session with Maasai pastoralists tomorrow and brilliantly led by Valerio.
The evening saw us heading out again, this time on a night safari. There were more zebra, wildebeest, spring hare and hundreds of lapwings flying up from the grass. The cherry on top of a pretty wonderful day was seeing a beautiful, graceful leopard! It eyed us carefully before rolling over and gracefully prowling away.
What an incredible end to our first day here! We have so much more to look forward to: focus groups on human-wildlife conflict with Maasai pastoralist communities, safaris, Nakuru National Park, Lake Naivasha, Mount Kenya and the Aberdares…