Quiet Hour In The Maasai Mara

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Almost sunset and a good time for mamas to play with the children…

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Or for lads to roll and loll…

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Or a cheetah to snooze in the grass beside a mulului tree…

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And then for humans to watch day’s end over the Mara plains…

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Lens-Artists: Serene  This week Patti invites us all to stop and ponder on peaceful scenes. As ever,  these views are from the old Africa album.

In Matching Stripes?

Grevy's zebra

Day’s end and a gathering of Grevy’s zebra, the largest and most northerly race of zebra-kind. It was a chance encounter. For two hours Kevin, our Chagga guide had been driving us along the dirt tracks of the Lewa Downs reserve. It was new territory to us; our first trip to northern Kenya from our then home-town of Nairobi. The landscapes were breath-taking, sweeping rangelands, pale grasses, beetling gorges, the distant gauzy backdrop of the Matthews Range.

Earlier we had stopped to follow a Greater Kudu family on foot. They were moving in single file up a steep bush trail. We lingered under a thorn tree and in the late day light, watched as they melted one by one into dappled cover. Then it was back to the truck and more trail bashing, the only sign of wildlife, massive piles of elephant dung on the track, and some torn up thorn trees where the herd had passed.

We scanned the bush country all round for a glimpse of them, but they were gone, or at least we could not see them, which is not the same thing. Elephants are invisibility specialists. No matter. As I said, the country was magnificent, the light like liquid amber, and the air filled with the soothing scent of acacia blossom. Lemony with tones of jasmine. As ever, out in the bush, all felt like a dream.

And by now, too, the sun had dropped behind the mountains, the light fading fast. We headed back to camp, and it was then, as we rounded a bend on the trail, we met the zebra. There was only just enough light left to take their photo, but they obligingly stood perfectly still.

And just in case you’re wondering what the difference is between Grevy’s and the plains zebras, here’s another sundowner scene, this time from the Maasai Mara far to the south:

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These are Common or Burchell’s Zebra, smaller than the Grevy’s. Their all-over, widely spaced stripes are thicker; ears pointed to Grevy’s endearingly round. Their social habits are different too, the plains’ zebra living in family groups with much grooming between members while their cousins appear to move in less structured gatherings.

But what about the stripes, you may ask: is every zebra’s livery unique?

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It is hard to be sure from the Grevy’s portrait, though I’m thinking it’s highly likely. But when it comes to the plains’ cousins, I have told the tale before of how once in Zambia, on a New Year’s Day game drive, a rather tipsy guide waxed lyrical about the very particular patterns on each zebra’s ‘butticles’, and how it was by such means that zebra offspring recognised their respective mamas. I don’t know about the last bit, but these two photos from Nairobi National Park certainly prove a point, final blurry butticle shot aside: the stripes truly do not match.

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Cee’s Black & White Photo Challenge: Matching Things

Thursday Doors Appeal

Here’s how to make someone’s life better:

Have Stethoscope, Will Travel

If you have been following my contributions to Thursday Doors over the years, you will know that I do voluntary work as a doctor overseas. Last year I was working at Kakumbi Rural Health Centre in Eastern Province, Zambia. It was distressing to see the lack of medical care for people with severe mental illness, schizophrenia and bipolar disorder. Their families would look after them as best they could; but if the patients became violent or started destroying property, this support could end. Patients would roam around the village, clearly very disturbed, behaving inappropriately (throwing stones at vehicles, wandering about naked).

Thursday’s door – torn off its hinges during a violent outburst by the man wearing white trousers. He has a long history of bipolar disorder. Neighbours managed to subdue him and chained him to the door to prevent him from doing more damage to people and property. They felt…

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Taking The Broad View ~ Mara Grasslands

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In the rainless months it is the oat grass that gives the Mara plains their golden hue. The small trees with their sculpted looks are desert dates, mulului trees, much browsed by all the local herbivores.

These photos from the Farrells’ old Africa album were taken outside the main Maasai Mara National Park, below the Oloololo Escarpment on territory owned by related Maasai families, locally referred to as a group ranch. Visitors pay a daily fee to group ranch elders. We were lucky to be able to make three trips there while living in Kenya.

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Life in Colour: Gold

Lens-Artists: Going wide

How Elephants Hide In Bushes

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These elephant photos were taken in the very special community sanctuary of Mwalunganje near the South Kenya coast. It was set up in the 1990s to ensure the future of an important migration route from the Shimba Hills to Tsavo East National Park AND as means to provide compensation to 300 smallholder farmers whose crops were being destroyed by the herds. The farmers retained ownership of the land in the form of shares, and many of them took up posts running the sanctuary as a tourist attraction. The project continues to be run (or at least it was still going last year) with the support of the Kenya Forest and Wildlife Services and the Sheldrick Wildlife Trust. (More photos at this link).

The Mwalunganje sanctuary is extraordinary terrain, a remnant Jurassic Forest survivor that still supports many cycads. They look like small palm trees and, as living survivors from a 200 million year old forest, are a seriously endangered species.

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Mwalunganje Hill is also a sacred place for the local Duruma people. Here there is kaya, a palisaded space where traditional rites are performed by the elders. On the day when we went to look for it there was a tree blocking the trail – frustrating for a nosy mzungu, but then I thought, ‘quite right too. You have not been invited there.’

There’s more about the sanctuary HERE

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‘Large As Life’ ~ More ‘Vintage’ Africa Scenes

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Maasai Mara

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For this week’s Black & White Photo Challenge, Cee asks for things on the large side, which at once had me thinking of big animals; big skies; big landscapes: Africa. And this further prompted the thought of trying a sepia-vintage look with photos from the Farrells’ aging Africa album. To my eye the results look rather like plates from some 1930s book club imprint of travellers’ tales.

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Lewa Downs, Northern Kenya: white rhino

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Lewa Downs: Grevy’s zebra with Mount Kenya backdrop

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Kilimanjaro from Mombasa Highway sepia

Kilimanjaro revealed one morning on the Mombasa Highway at Kibwezi

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Maasai Mara Marsh Pride

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Olololo Plateau and Thomson’s Gazelle

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Desert Date tree Maasai Mara

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Athi Plains Giraffe

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Cee’s Black & White Photo Challenge: Large subjects

A Very Big Zambian Baobab

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Zambia is a country blessed with some magnificent trees and miombo woodland that makes for parkland like landscapes. This particular tree is in South Luangwa National Park, one of the world’s wildlife treasure spots. (Do not believe the tales that Africa has no wildlife left. It is absolutely untrue.)

Here is more of the tree that wouldn’t fit in the square. The damage on the lower trunk is probably due to elephants and/or other other grazers:

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South Luangwa - mighty poachers' baobab

Tree Square #30

Vintage Zimbabwe

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Late 1992-3 and we were living in Lusaka, Zambia, Graham on secondment from the Natural Resources Institute in Kent to the European Union Delegation – his job to manage the logistics of food aid deliveries to drought-stricken parts of Zambia.

These were exciting times. As we arrived, long-term presidential incumbent, Kenneth Kaunda (he who had led Northern Rhodesia to independence in 1964) had recently ceded to Frederick Chiluba, the first elected president after the return to multi-party democracy. Which sounds positive, but it also involved the International Monetary Fund structurally adjusting the nation, causing hikes in staple food prices, and stopping free schooling and medical care for the poor so they could become even more hard done by.

Then there were the international corporations who continued not to pay taxes on their exploitation of Zambia’s copper mines. Then Kenneth Kaunda’s army officer son, Rezi, had thoughts of starting a coup and was said to behind much of the criminal activity in the capital, and then over in the neighbouring Congo (or so the story went) President Mobutu had neglected to pay his army thus causing them to come on regular night-raiding missions to the diplomatic quarters of Lusaka.

One could have become very anxious, but actually, none of this was my experience of Lusaka. It always seemed rather sleepy under the wide blue skies of breezy white clouds, the locals ever quick to smile and share a joke.

Anyway by July ‘93, winter in southern Africa, we thought we needed a holiday, and headed south for the then peaceably prosperous neighbour-state of Zimbabwe. We drove on near empty roads all the way to Harare. Back then that city  seemed like a wonderland, the epitome of sophistication compared to Lusaka where the downtown stores had empty shelves and all seemed stuck in a 1950s time-warp.  And after Harare we set off across Zimbabwe – nothing booked ahead – empty roads. The only downside was a gloomy day or two when we were in Hwange National Park and my little camera could not cope with low light levels. Still, it just about managed to capture the elephants under this very large acacia. They turned up while we were eating our picnic lunch.

Photo: Hwange National Park, Zimbabwe.

Tree Square #29

A Very Big Baobab

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A Christmas holiday with chums down on the South Mombasa coast, and one very sturdy baobab, Adansonia digitata. It’s a tree with many surprising properties: a drought tolerant soft wood that is also fire resistant. It may also live for up to 3,000 years and grow an astonishing 25 metres in girth. The fibrous bark stores water and provides emergency dry season fodder for elephants and elands. Humans also work the fibre to make ropes, twine for basket making and cloth.

Baobabs are leafless for most of the year, which doubtless gave rise to the many traditional tales of an upside-down tree with its roots in the air (planted by creator, or the devil, or hyenas who are always getting things badly wrong). When they do happen, the leaves are large and finger-like and villagers harvest them as vegetables. In the flowering season the branches hang in fleshy cream flowers that only open at night, smell somewhat foetid and are pollinated by bats and bushbabies. The resulting fruits – large woody capsules – contain seeds that are eaten by wild and domestic grazers alike, while the white, cream of tartar like pulp that surrounds them is a good source of vitamin C and used in juices and beer-making.

One of my best African treasures is a Kenyan kiondo  bag made in the traditional way from baobab fibre. These days the baskets are more commonly woven from sisal cord. Either way you can see how they are made at an earlier post HERE.

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Tree Square #20

Trees For Everything On Zanzibar

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While I’m in East Africa arboreal mode, I remembered Zanzibar could not be beaten for its array of fabulous trees – from giant mangos and jackfruits to its plantations of spice-bearing nutmeg, cinnamon and cloves trees. On the family farms there are papaya, orange, banana and coconut groves, not only sources of family food, but also crops for market. And the leaves of the coconut palms can be turned into all kinds of useful recyclable household essentials – roof thatch, baskets, screens and sleeping mats.

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The Coconut Harvester

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Island guide, Hari, doing a deal at the farmhouse door.

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Roadside spice farm stall:

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Jackfruit tree:

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Maruhubi boat builders’ beach with an ocean going dhow under construction:

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And then there are the baobabs. This one coming up is a little unusual – apart from being in leaf which only happens now and then, it’s providing the structural wherewithal for a Stone Town pizza joint:

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Tree Square #10