Biodiversity Kenya: Our time so far…

We are now on our 5th day of the Conservation and Biodiversity field trip to Kenya and we have been so busy having the time of our lives that we haven’t had a chance to update our blog posts! Here is a brief summary of what we have been doing so far.

We arrived in Nairobi on the 4th Jan and stayed in a hotel overnight. We took advantage of this luxurious accommodation, showering to our heart’s content before heading to our first campsite at Lake Naivasha the following morning. Lake Naivasha is stunning and is perfectly situated for visiting other key Kenyan biodiversity attractions such as Crater Lake and Hell’s Gate National Park. We immediately set to learning and recording the local biodiversity for our species lists, with our keen birder Luke recording nearly 75 species in the first afternoon. Those of us with interest in things without wings were also treated to vervet monkeys, pied colobus monkeys and wonderful lakeside hippos. Hippos can be considered Africa’s most dangerous animal to humans, however at Naivasha a combination of leaving each other well alone and a slightly questionable electric fence seems to do the job of keeping encounters to a minimum. We also took advantage of the local bar to sample Tusker beer and hippo hurricanes (more rum than hurricane).

After our first night of camping (yes, there were long drop toilets, yes, they really smelled, no, we didn’t really mind, much…) we headed out to walk around the beautiful Crater Lake. Crater Lake is a wildlife sanctuary, however the salt lake means that water can become scarce during droughts, and so animals often need to be herded back into the park if they overspill. In times of plenty, the prevention of culling of certain species can also lead to conflict with local people as expanding herds spill beyond the park.

To our astonishment, we were greeted with our first sightings of warthog, eland, giraffe and hyena within 5 minutes of reaching the top of the ridge surrounding the lake.

Unfortunately at this point my recently acquired stomach bug got the better of me and after a queasy walk back down, I spent the next couple of hours in the shade of the bar by the lake watching fish eagles and Egyption geese go about their business. I couldn’t have picked a nicer place to recover!

 

We then spent the afternoon viewing hippos and hundreds of birds from boats in Naivasha Lake. This provided us all with a chance to improve our bird ID skills, learning several different types of heron, kingfisher, egret, ibis, stork, hammerkop, pelican and cormorant.

Sunrise the next day found us enjoying a very misty Hell’s Gate National Park, where we tried our hand at distance sampling while walking through our first example of real “Lion King” country. Distance sampling is a cheap, replicable and time efficient way to monitor herbivore density and therefore monitor wildlife in parks all over the world. Estimating distance while curbing our excitement at seeing zebra, gazelles, hartebeests, buffalo, waterbuck and giraffes for the first time was surprisingly difficult, but we got the hang of it. We were also treated to a huge array of bird species, including Verreaux’s eagles and a breeding colony of Ruppell’s vultures. We then tried our hand at sliding, climbing and jumping our way through the Hell’s Gate gorge, which boasted its own variety of biodiversity, including the castor oil plant and an eagle owl.

We then packed up and moved on to our second campsite at Lake Nakuru National Park, which included wild zebra among the bunkhouses! Here we had a talk with Kenya Wildlife Service staff about the challenges faced by the park and how KWS manage and mitigate for them. The park lies right on the edge of Nakuru city, and so challenges include lack of dispersal area for wide ranging species (the park has no elephants for this reason), pollution and poor waste management from the city, which should drain through padis and enter the lake as filtered water but often bypasses this system. We then experienced our first game drives, standing in our buses with roofs up and binoculars raised to drink in the sights of our first rhinos, flamingos, lions, Rothschild giraffes, oxpeckers, a leopard and great crowned cranes among many, many other species in this stunning park.

Our last destination so far, where I sit typing this, is a bush camp in Ol-Pajeta wildlife conservancy. Here we have no water and no walls and it is utter paradise. We have completed game drives at night and in the early morning. Sightings have included cheetah, a striped hyena, elephants and the provocation of a group of white rhino by some overambitious teenage lions.

Conservancies, unlike National Parks, are not managed by the government and so have a completely different approach and energy behind their wildlife management. We were treated to a fantastic talk, which illustrated how Ol-Pajeta, which hosts the largest number of black rhinos in East Africa and holds the last 3 northern white rhinos in the world, balances maintaining its biodiversity with prioritising rhino conservation and working with local pastoralists to obtain revenue from a working cattle ranch within the conservancy.

So there we go, we seem to have accomplished a lot in our first six days, and I have only really scratched the surface of what we have learned. Here’s to an evening around the bonfire listening to baboons squabbling, and another 10 days in paradise!

 

Author: @CharlotteMarshall

 

ms882    January 29th, 2018    Kenya    , , , ,

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