My birthday in Kenya

Emma Korein

Before this year I had never spent a Birthday away from home, so to celebrate my 24th in Kenya was quite a novel experience. We started the day off with a morning safari, where my bus spotted elephants, lions, and over 10 rhinos. But of course this trip is “work” not “play,” so we then attended a talk by Ol Pejeta conservancy, learning about the foundations of the park and the challenges to conservation experienced in Kenya. Discussions of these challenges were further stimulated that afternoon when we visited two different examples of species conservation efforts. The first was Sweetwaters Chimpanzee Sanctuary established by Ol Pejeta, Kenya Wildlife Service, and the Jane Goodall institute to provide a life-long home for injured and orphaned chimpanzees. Afterwards we visited the enclosure of the last three Northern White Rhinos: Sudan (male), Fatu (female) and Najin (female). Although natural reproduction between the rhinos is not possible, vets are exploring the idea of in vitro fertilization methods to facilitate breeding and the preservation of this nearly extinct species. Like most tourists, these activates surfaced mixed emotions of excitement at seeing such rare species yet also sadness for the abuse and poaching that led these rhinos and chimpanzees to need refuge in the first place. However as conservation biologists these visits also provoked continuous analytical discussions about the future of conservation and the deeper political roots of sanctuaries such as these. How are the chimpanzees affected by living in a fenced enclosure, particularly in their non-native habitat? How big a role does tourism play in the conservation strategy of the rhinos? You certainly learn a lot when you spend two weeks with motivated Master’s students from many different backgrounds, all passionate about making a difference. And finally to wind down we went for an evening safari drive, where we saw ostriches dancing in the sunset and hyena cubs playing near their family den – I’d call that a pretty good birthday present.


But of course even when camping in the remote, unfenced savannah of Kenya, the traditional birthday rituals of dinner and drinks with friends could not escape me. I was completely beside myself when the team surprised me with a massive birthday cake (surely the biggest one I’ve ever had) while singing happy birthday. How Brendan and the cooking crew managed to get that to our campsite is beyond me, but it was delicious and devoured in about 10 minutes. Anna Hunter and Kirsty Fraser nearly made me cry with a handful of carefully wrapped gifts, which given our circumstances of hand carried luggage and dirt that gets everywhere, were impressively clean and intact. That night as I was sitting around the fire, drinking a Tusker and playing charades, I couldn’t help but think how strange it was that I felt so close to everyone on the trip having really only known them for a few months. There is something magical about Kenyan stars and bonfires that makes you feel a kind of togetherness with everyone around you. It has been a real pleasure getting to know such a smart, funny, kind and loving group of people for the past two weeks. And to top of the night as I was getting ready for bed, I certainly experienced a birthday first when we heard a lion groaning right near the camp site amongst the other animal sounds of the night. Something tells me this birthday is one I’ll remember for a very long time.


Photo credit: Brendan Godley and Céline Gamble

aan207    January 19th, 2017    Kenya    , ,

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