Three Hippopotamuses Or Should That Be Hippopotami? Either Way, It’s Hard To Type ~ Thursday’s Special

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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

wild shopping in Kenya

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In Africa shopping is often an adventure. Well, who needs the thrill of the mall when you can strike a deal in a hippo-infested papyrus swamp? And for carnations too. I was most impressed by this young man’s opportunism, though puzzled too. Flower-buying customers seemed in short supply in this particular location. I was in the wilderness grounds attached to the Safariland Hotel on the shores of Lake Naivasha when he popped out of the papyrus. I had been wandering alone there (as I did over several days), not on the look out for retail therapy, but for Cape Buffalo (as indeed the sign warned me), and also for hippo whose very loud grunting was resounding off the lake. Both creatures can be deadly if you catch them, or they you, in circumstances not to their liking. 

In short then, I was engaged in my own form of adventure bird-watching, while the Team Leader, aka Graham, was back at the hotel, involved in workshop brain-storming with fellow scientists from across Africa. The other surprising factor is that I had some money on me so was able to buy a bunch. The flower seller kept his stock hidden from view in a swamp puddle. It seemed he was recycling the discarded side-shoots from one of the local flower factories. There are several of these huge horticulture enterprises along Lake Naivasha’s shore, all abstracting and polluting the only freshwater lake within Kenya’s Rift in order to export perfect metre-long stems of roses and carnations to Europe. The seller was thus making an opportunity out of stock control squeamishness over European “standards”. But as you can see, his little posy is very pretty. The flowers lasted ages, even surviving a hot drive back to Nairobi. A good buy all round.

You can read more of this story at CARNATIONS, CROOKS AND COLOBUS AT LAKE NAIVASHA  For now, here are more views of this unique wildlife outlet store:

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DP weekly photo challenge: adventure

Ailsa’s Travel Challenge: merchandise

Carnations, crooks and colobus at Lake Naivasha

Even locals told us that  anything could happen in Kenya.  And  so one Lake Naivasha morning, when I thought I was  alone in the grounds of an old safari lodge, I was both surprised and unsuprised when a young man suddenly stepped out from the papyrus swamp clutching two bunches of carnations. Fifty bob, madame, he said after the customary greeting. He seemed nonplussed  when I started to laugh.

“Do you always keep your carnations in the papyrus,” I asked.

“Yes,” he said.

“What, waiting for people like me?”

“Yes,” he said.

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This exchange seemed to seal the deal. I didn’t even bother to haggle. And although I have no idea why I would have 50 bob on me in such a place, I bought a bunch. Given the general lack of wazungu humanity in that particular location, I also wondered  how long he had been waiting for the likes of me to come along; or how long he would have been prepared to wait for a customer. Or if I was just the unexpected thing that happened to him, rather than he to me. (You could tie yourself in knots second guessing). The rest of the lodge guests, I knew, were male entomologists, engaged all day in seminars and workshops; only I was free to wander about the hotel’s straggling  grounds buying flowers for which I had no particular need.

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We had driven up the Rift from Nairobi the day before. Team Leader Graham was to attend a four-day international conference on the Larger Grain Borer. Along with his Kenyan colleagues there were some forty delegates from such places as Honduras, Mozambique, Italy, UK, Benin, Zimbabwe.  Anyone who has read my post, Letters from Lusaka Part 1,will know that this small maize-grinding beetle, aka LGB, was introduced into Africa in a consignment of US food aid in the 1980s. Its natural habitat is in South and Middle America where it also has natural predators to keep it in check. In Africa it has no natural enemies and can thus eat itself silly while villagers, deprived of their staple crop, starve.  Seventeen years on from this conference, it is still a problem.

So: while delegates debated what might be done about the ravages of this particular storage pest, Nosy Writer, like some latter-day colonial ‘mem’, dilly-dallied about the lake shore and its hinterland. At the time I was recovering from some strange digestive malady, so wandering and bird watching were all I could cope with. When the young man popped out of the papyrus I was still weighing up whether or not I should be deterred by the sign I had just read amongst the fever trees.  I could anyway hear the hippo grunting, and having once been charged by a big angry bull in Zambia was already a little wary. The appearance of a boy with a bouquet, then, seemed like a piece of magic.

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When I asked him where he got the flowers, he told me there was a flower factory ‘next door’. (Many international growers have their flower factories around the lake. There are strawberry and asparagus growers there too). At the factory (think acres of pink poly-tunnels under the tropical sun) he gathered the discarded side stems and inferior blooms from the refuse heap and made them up into bunches. Later, when I told this to Graham’s Kenyan boss, Gilbert, he told me that export stems had to be between 70-100 cm long, which meant there were probably plenty of rejects.

He also told me that the factory ‘next door’ was reputed to be owned by one of Kenya’s top crooks, a notorious Kenyan-Asian wheeler-dealer. Gilbert then added that he also owned the safari lodge where we were all staying. I could only blink in response. It seemed like another of those ‘anything can happen in Kenya’ moments; another of the endless moral conflicts. Here were a bunch of diligent, respectable scientists all funded by international development money patronizing the establishment of a member of the criminal elite who, from behind a front of untouchable respectability, was bleeding the nation on breathtakingly colossal proportions.

It’s the moment when you say, oh, bloody hell, I can’t cope with this, and go back to reading a book or bird watching, or listening to the plaintive call of a pair of fish eagles resounding off the water, or to the companionable  grunting of hippos.

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I also tried to distract myself from thoughts of the flower factories around the lake. There was talk of them abstracting too much water, and polluting the only freshwater lake in Kenya’s Rift with pesticide residue  – all so the citizens of London, Paris, Amsterdam can buy the perfect, but scentless, long-stemmed rose, or metre-long carnations. Of course these places provide work for scores of labourers, and increasingly there are well qualified Africans in managerial positions.

The companies probably provide clinics and primary schools too, but the bulk of the profits from these huge concerns go to Europe and to their shareholders, not to Kenya whose human and natural resources are being exploited in the meantime. Then there’s the row about multi-nationals not paying local taxes. It’s the same old story – colonialism in a new form – the need for cheap labour to justify the cost of the daily absurdity of flying fresh-cut flowers out of Africa.

How do you begin to unpick all this. I can’t. It is easier to bird watch, and there are hundreds of species around the lake to look out for.

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From the top down: pelican, bee eater, pied kingfisher, goliath heron – just a few of the 400 bird species around the lake.

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There are the fishermen too, seine netting and scooping up buckets of freshwater crayfish, although accidentally introduced carp is now the dominant fish species.

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And finally every afternoon around four, a family of colobus monkeys come to the lodge garden and play on the guest cottage roofs. It’s easy to tell yourself that this is paradise.

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Refs:

Urban society and the fishery of Lake Naivasha, Kenya – Balancing ecosystem and stakeholder demands by Phil Hickley, Mucai Muchiri & Ros Boar

Kenya Birds Lake Naivasha

Flower power keeps Kenya’s Lake Naivasha blossoming – video Guardian 2012

Kenyan flower industry’s taxing question Guardian 2011

P.S. I took the carnations home to Nairobi where they lasted a further ten days. Excellent rejects.

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