Gave Up Flying, Took Up Running

ostrich sq

You can see the city high rises in the top left behind the hen ostrich. She is standing in Nairobi National Park (some 40 square miles) which nudges up against the perimeter of Kenya’s capital, including the industrial zone and the main airport highway. In our time, the park still had an open wildlife corridor to the south, though even then there were problems of settlement encroachment. These days too, there is another kind of incursion – in the form of a super-duper elevated Chinese railway that cuts across the park on tall concrete pillars. This line replaces the old Uganda railway built right across Kenya by the British administration between 1895-1901, also known in its day as the Lunatic Line.

The colonial railway cost British taxpayers a lot of money, and was built entirely to satisfy UK strategic interests (i.e. not at all for the benefit of local populations). In order to recoup the cost, settlement by British gentlemen and especially members the ‘officer class’ was actively encouraged. It was envisaged they would engage in large-scale ranching and planting along the line of rail and produce valuable cash crops for export.

In the early 1900s the chaps who came out to British East Africa all had notions of making big fortunes. One of those notions involved ostrich farming, or rather ostrich feather farming, since those airy plumes were just then in high demand for ladies’ hats. These same chaps also knew that some other chaps down in South Africa had made it rich from feather production.

Unfortunately the  ostriches of British East did not prove especially accommodating within what turned out to be a very small window of opportunity. One way to set up business was to collect eggs from the wild (a single nest might have twenty or more eggs) and then incubate and rear the chicks. But then robbing a nest could be hazardous; ostrich parents are fierce guardians, taking it in turns to protect their offspring. (N.B. a kick from an ostrich can break a man-leg).

Early settler Lord Delamere thought to speed up operations by recruiting a cohort of mounted Somalis to organise an ostrich drive across the open plains of his Rift Valley estate, thereby separating flocks of part-reared chicks from the hens and driving them towards the farm dairy where farmhands, stationed behind thorn trees, had been charged to grab any passing chick and imprison them. It did not go well. Even ostrich chicks can wrestle.

And then the captured adult cock bird proved most unbiddable, even with a sock over his head (an approach that was supposed to calm him down). He was last seen sprinting across the plains, still be-socked, having broken from his pen. And by the time all this had been gone through, the bottom had dropped out of the hat feather market because some idiot had invented the motor car wherein ladies’ plumed headgear proved most unsuitable and was apt to blow clean away.

All of which is a bit of a deviation from the point I intended to make. Ostriches may not fly, but they can certainly run: over 40 mph (70kph). The fastest birds on the planet. Just look at those legs in the next photo. They also come with huge, clawed feet attached.

park 21

 

 

Square Up #13

28 thoughts on “Gave Up Flying, Took Up Running

  1. Several thoughts here. There’s an ostrich farm south of us on the way to Tucson. It’s interesting to see all of the ostriches and they’re quite large. This would have worked perfectly for Six Word Saturday, too. 🙂 That’s it. Nothing profound. 🙂 Enjoyed the post as usual.

    janet

    1. I think it will cost you, one way or another, Mak. How’s it doing anyway? It certainly looks very snazzy aboard, and I’ve seen PR footage with lots of happy Kenyan travellers saying how much better it is than the old one. I also read that the ultimate objective of this and the new Tanzanian railway was DR Congo and the shipping out of that nation’s valuable resources. As ever one wonders the big wonder: who benefits?

  2. Oh this had me laughing out loud imagining all those good Brits of the “officer-class” trying to capture and raise ostriches. You’d think they’d have done a little more research, but then entitlement can often get in the way of that kind of thing.
    Fun post Tish.
    Alison

    1. It was interesting that the British Government of the time thought it was even feasible that ‘the officer class’ would get stuck in, clear the wilderness and produce profitable anything. Daft all round 🙂

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