I have elephants on my mind today. Last night when we were trawling YouTube it threw up a mesmerizing BBC film about the desert elephants of Mali’s Sahel. It was made back in 2001, and followed a research project that involved fitting radio collars to 8 elephants (a very tricky pursuit) and tracking them and their herd over a 700 mile migration route, from water source to water source, as they crossed the desert lands of Mali and Burkina Faso. A subsequent trawl on the web suggests the research is ongoing under the auspices of Save The Elephants. The film is well worth viewing, and this is the link to the Daily Motion version: The Lost Elephants of Timbuktu 2001.
Not the best photo, I know. I cropped it so you can just about see what is going on in the papyrus to the right of the pelican. i.e. the rear end of one of Lake Naivasha’s hippos going ashore and the roaring, open mouth of another hippo who is objecting to the intrusion. Hippos have whopping teeth and tusks, and quite apart from being grouchy with each other, they also kill quite a few humans, especially fishermen. They are at their best when mostly immersed in water, and their surprisingly tender hides well protected from the heat of the sun. But even so, it always pays to be wary.
A glimpse of some of Lake Naivasha’s rich bird life (apologies for grainy old ‘out-of-Africa’ shot).
The lake is fed by underground rivers and is Kenya’s only freshwater lake among its Great Rift string of soda lakes. Many of the fresh flowers bought in Europe – roses as well as carnations – are grown in corporate-owned flower factories around the lake shore. Their presence has created jobs and some social services (e.g. company funded primary schools and clinics) for local people, but there are big costs too: too much water abstraction that has shrunk the lake and pesticide and fertilizer run off that have threatened fish stocks. There’s a good little video (7 mins) focusing on these problems and showing more of life around the lake HERE.
This photo documents my first real-life encounter with lions. We were on a Saturday afternoon drive in Southern Kenya when some game rangers flagged us down and asked us if we’d seen the lions. They then headed off into the bush in their truck and we followed – in a Peugeot 304 saloon.
I’d only been in Africa a few days, a camp follower in the Team Leader’s Team (aka Graham’s Outfit). He was there working, as in serious crop protection entomologist, hot on the trail of larger grain borers (LGB), an alien species of wood-boring beetles imported into Africa on American food aid in the 1980s. The pest’s original home is in Mexico where it had grown a taste for maize, a proclivity it brought with it to Africa where it causes havoc in grain stores up and down the continent. The greatest incidence seems to be along the line of rail, doubtless due to beetle escapes from goods wagons hauling grain upcountry from East African ports.
Anyway, the Team Leader had business up in the Taita Hills, interviewing smallholder farmers to gauge how far these nasty dudus had spread. It is beautiful country on the way to Taveta in Tanzania – and the setting for much of William Boyd’s An Ice-Cream War and thus once the front line in the First World War guerrilla conflict between the forces of British East Africa (later Kenya Colony) and German East Africa (Tanganyika). And being rather remote, there was nowhere handy to stay apart from the 5 star Taita Hills Hilton. Oh dear, the trials and tribulations of exotic travel. The lovely Kenyan manager even forced a suite upon us (well stocked fridge, Air Con, swish bathroom and all).
The hotel also has its own game reserve, formerly a colonial sisal plantation run back to bush. To the south lie the plains of the Serengeti grasslands, to the north the vast expanse of the Tsavo game reserves. It is thus a wildlife gem, and you can stay there too, in an extraordinary stilted creation inspired by the traditional homesteads of the local Taita people, though rather oddly constructed using congealed cement sacks which instead reminded us of sand-bagged gun emplacements and so presumably with an intentional nod to the ‘Ice-Cream War’.
Not a thing of beauty then, but providing magnificent viewing of the wildlife, especially elephants which, in our time, would come in the night to drink at the ornamental pool within the lodge’s basement bar – a whole herd only a few feet away. At dawn you can walk along the raised walkways between the rooms and watch Kilimanjaro make its brief morning appearance, floating high above the horizon like a magic carpet mountain. The next time you’d look it would be gone – poof! Only a clear blue sky.
Much of the wildlife news from Africa – as per mainstream media – is almost invariably negative. Of course I don’t argue at all with the need to focus public attention on the poaching of rhino horn and elephant ivory – not if it will put pressure on the nations (China, Malaysia, Philippines, Vietnam especially) that fund and fuel this wretched trade. But perhaps the overall effect of such reporting is to give people the idea that African nations do not care for their wildlife. This is not true. Such reporting also often overlooks the absolute heroism of African wildlife rangers (both men and women) who night and day risk their lives to defend their national parks and reserves against poacher predation, often within conflict zones such as DR Congo.
A nation like Kenya has vested interest (public and private) in maintaining and protecting its vast and varied wildlife areas. Tourism is a major income earner, although tourists themselves may at times pose a significant threat to the nation’s environment, both natural and cultural, as their every want is catered to. Also the majority of Kenya’s population are smallholder farmers and most game parks have few boundaries. The wildlife goes where it will, and one elephant can destroy a farming family’s livelihood in a few minutes of chomping and stomping about the place. Elephants kill people too.
In other words conservation has an awful lot of human angles beyond the protecting of particular animal species and their habitats. And while some species may be under threat, it seems that others such as the Cape Buffalo are causing problems by their rising numbers in small reserves. So: just to cast a brief light on the work of the Kenya Wildlife Service (and you can follow this link for more details) here is a current progress report.
Perhaps of greatest importance to the world at large is that in October Kenya’s effort in combatting wildlife trafficking, in particular ivory poaching, was acknowledged at the 70th meeting of the United Nations Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES).
Also in October the Kenya Wildlife Service hosted its Annual Carnivore Conference which explored the impact of the increasing spread of human populations into carnivore habitat. A quick scan of the topics covered give vivid insight into the multifarious issues involved at the big cat – herder-farmer interface.
And then a week ago Kenya’s Cabinet Secretary for Tourism and Wildlife, Najib Balala launched the National Recovery Plan For Giraffes. He pointed out that while attention has been focussed on rhino and elephant losses, many species of plains game have been increasingly under threat. Giraffes, in particular, are targeted for the bush meat trade. Climate change and loss of habitat are also issues. (I did a post about giraffe loss and their conservation a couple years ago). It’s good to see some concerted action between government and nongovernmental wildlife organisations.
Some cause for optimism then, though we can’t be as laid back on the matter as these cheetahs seem to be about my intrusion into their afternoon nap time.
copyright 2018 Tish Farrell
From the old Africa album: sundown in the Maasai Mara quite a few moons ago.
Lions are the past-masters when it comes to both standing out and blending in – this week’s photo challenge from Ann-Christine at Lens-Artists, which sent me rifling through the old Africa Album for some good examples. These were all taken in Kenya’s Maasai Mara back in another lifetime. The header shot shows both leonine proclivities – the art of showing off and of disappearing in foot-high oat grass. I think there are at least three lions in this shot. In the following close up you can see one of them – just right of the lioness’s left ear. Probably a male.
But what about this next shot – can you spot the second lion? Course you can, now you know what to look for:
And here’s a different kind of concealment – the whole pride in a gully; their concentrated gaze suggesting thoughts of dinner and where they might find it.
Hippos can be very disagreeable at the best of times, and downright murderous if you upset them. They are probably at their most peaceable in the water, but that does not mean that they may not capsize a passing boat if they’ve a mind to. They spend the night hours grazing on shore, and consume huge quantities of grass, around 100lb (45kg) a night.
These Lake Naivasha hippos especially like the close-cropped lawns of the lakeside hotels, so it’s not good idea for guests to go wandering around the gardens after dark. The hazard reduces towards daybreak when the grazers usually return to the water, not liking to be caught out in the sun despite having their own in-built skin care product – a red oily secretion that protects them from dehydrating and overheating.
Once when we were Zambia, on a guided walk in the Luangwa Valley, we encountered a huge bull who was late returning to the river, and couldn’t find an accessible way down a steeply shelving bank to the water. He was so furious he decided to charge us. (See Grouchy Hippo, Laid Out Lions.) And this is perhaps one of the most surprising things about hippos, given their bulk and tonnage – their land speed capability. They can clock 18 mph at the gallop and easily outrun a human over short distances.
As to good points – they do go in for much companionable honking and grunting when a group is submerged together for the day’s wallowing. It is one of those Africa sounds that imprint on the consciousness – once heard, never forgotten.
Thursday’s Special: trio Now go head over to Paula’s to see her unforgettable puffin trio.
P.S. Hippopotamus – the name is derived from the Greek meaning river horse. Hippos have no horse connections but are distantly related to pigs.
copyright 2018 Tish Farrell
I have no recollection of taking this photo. I came across it yesterday in a pile of ‘to scan’ shots that had been lurking on my desk for a while. How could I not remember this marvellous scene – elephant family against Maasai Mara backdrop of the Oloololo Escarpment? Not only that (and I know elephants are short-sighted) but the one left-of-centre, possibly the matriarch, seems to be looking straight into my lens. And the ears are out, which is not usually a very good sign. Fortunately, though, the trunk is not up. When that happens, swift retreat is definitely called for; an angry elephant can flatten a truck.
We must have driven on and left them to their peaceful browsing. Time is of the essence; it takes a lot to fill an elephant every day – 300-400lb (135-180kg) of grass, reeds and tree parts (grass is their preferred food and they actively deforest areas to encourage grasslands, which may explain the broken tusk) and 30-60 gallons (135-270 litres) of water. A full time job then, seeing to those creature requirements.
For more about elephants see the previous post.
copyright 2018 Tish Farrell
Daily Prompt creature
The fervour of elephant love should never be underestimated. Look like a threat to an elephant child and death will surely follow. But in peaceful surroundings, and from safe quarters, the way a matriarchal group shepherds and protects their young is marvellous to behold. The header photo was taken in the Maasai Mara in 1999 from a safari truck, but the account below is of a scene witnessed in 1992, one night at Kilaguni Lodge in Tsavo West national park. Some of you will have read this piece before, but then I think it’s worth retelling. You can’t say too much about elephants, can you:
Night comes swiftly in the African bush but never quietly. As the sun drops behind the Chyulu Hills, so the pipe and whirr of frog and bug ratchet up a few decibels. It is like a million high tension wires being pinged and twanged. If you listen with both ears it can drive you mad. Likewise, if you allow yourself to succumb to the night’s sticky heat and the hypnotic scents of thorn flowers, then do not be surprised when the sudden scream of a tree hyrax stops your heart.
But we are not going mad. And our hearts are just fine. We think we have cracked this Africa lark. Well sprayed with insect-repellent, all accessible parts covered as can be, anti-malarials ingested, it seems safe to sit out on our veranda at Kilaguni Lodge and do some night-time big game watching.
Below our room is a barren stretch of red volcanic earth, and a water-hole lit up by two search lights. The illuminated circle that the lights create is like a stage set. It seems we are seated in a mysterious wildlife theatre waiting for the cast to appear.
The contrast is disturbing. By day, this self-same set is furnace red, littered with volcanic spoil; it is the haunt of the cadaverous-looking marabou storks and the occasional zebra. By night, all is softer, surreal. You feel you might dissolve through the light into perpetual darkness; for out there the night goes on forever, doesn’t it?
And so we go on gazing at the scene. It takes some time to realize that small groups of impala are emerging from the gloom. Their stillness is mesmerizing. Perhaps they are not there at all.
The impala are wary. You can almost see the charge of anxiety ripple through the herd. We hold our breath and stare into the dark behind the lights.
And then we see them – black hulks gliding through the thorn trees. Elephants. They have come so silently, walking always on tiptoes, their heels cushions of fat to muffle their footfalls. Slowly they move in from the bush. Even in the dimness beyond the pool, their hides glow red, irradiated by the igneous dirt they have blown over themselves.
In the wings the elephants pause. It is hard to say how many are there. After a few moments two peel away and the rest of the group retreats again into darkness. Two large matriarchs now head for the pool. At the water’s edge they part, and in matched strides stake out the water-hole from opposite directions. There’s an angry trumpeting when an impala fails to withdraw fast enough, and only when the entire bank is clear do the elephants go down and drink. Yet they have hardly taken a couple of gulps when they move back and take up guard duty, one at each end of the mud bank.
We are transfixed. We cannot fathom the plot, but note that, despite the elephants’ aggressive stance, there has been a concerted gracefulness to their routine. It crosses my mind that the great choreographer, Balanchine, once made a ballet for elephants. Now we see they have dances of their own.
And so we wait.
Slowly the rest of the group reappears, moving as one in the tightest huddle. As they enter the spotlight we understand. Tucked safely between the legs of four large cows are three infants. Like precious celebrities surrounded by an escort of heavies, the youngsters are guided to the water. There, with tiny trunks they cannot quite control, they drink their fill. The whole thing takes only a few minutes. Then, with this life-and-death task accomplished, the sentinels re-join the group, and the small herd leaves as silently as it came, melting into the backdrop.
For the rest of this piece see earlier post The Tsavo Big Game Show – It’s A Dangerous Pursuit
copyright 2018 Tish Farrell
First off I should say these aren’t the best of photos. They were taken on a dullish, August day in the Maasai Mara, and out of the back of a dusty Land Rover. But it’s a nice little glimpse of ‘I’m-a-big-boy-now’ rebellion of the lion kind.
It was the she-lion’s odd behaviour that attracted our attention. We drove towards the swamp to see what was going on. The rest of the Marsh Pride was lying up in the long grass a good half mile away, but here was a lone adult female walking about in a distracted manner, and with no attempt at concealment. She was also calling…and looking…
We drove around the swamp. And then we could see what she couldn’t…
Junior. He, in fine nonchalant style, was busy exploring. He could hear Mom all right, but he was darned if he would show himself. In fact he just kept going…
…in the opposite direction…
Ooops! Not looking where we were going…
But it gave him a good excuse: “Was just getting a drink of water, Mom.”
We left them to find one another, although I reckon Junior was in for a big cuff round the ears. Meanwhile, here’s the big lion, he was thinking he already was – Dad.
This post was inspired, somewhat tangentially, by Jennifer Nichole Wells One Word Photo Challenge: wet Drop in to her blog to see other bloggers’ responses.