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.
I’ve written about the Maasai Mara in other posts. Here’s an excerpt from a piece that was long-listed in the Brandt Travel Guide competition ages ago:
Dances with warriors
Night on the Mara River – darkness wraps round, close as a Maasai’s blanket. It is cold, too, on the river’s bend. We press closer the campfire, our white faces soon roasting red. No one speaks. There’s too much to listen for. A hyena whoops across the water? It sounds close. It sounds unearthly, sending shock waves through vulnerable bones – mine, conjuring packs of predators, out there, circling our ring of light. And even as I think it the Maasai are on us. Six warriors, spears in hand and naked to the waist. Their leader tosses his ostrich-feather head-dress that looks like a lion’s mane. He is fearless. He is lion.
Then the singing starts, a nasal falsetto that resonates through time and space – the winds’ whine through Mara grasses. The Maasai girls trip lightly into the firelight, their wraps like flames – yellow, red; close-cropped heads hung with beads; chins jutting forward as the crescent necklets – tiny beads so patiently strung – rise and fall on skinny chests. The moran start to leap – higher, faster.
Their dance fires the blood as it was once meant to in the days when the young morani proved their courage by killing a lion; but we see the collecting box left discreetly in the grass. These kids are from the nearby settlements, but before I unravel the question of exploitation – theirs or ours – the dancers pounce, dragging us into a conga, pastoralist-style. I let the Maasai girl take my hand. She’s about fourteen years old and she is boss. After all, this is her land – the big skies and the rippling oat grass, and our small camp in the outer reserve remains there only on her clansmen’s say-so. The hand that grips mine is small and hard.
So I follow her, graceless in the rhythms I cannot fathom, wend with the snake of dancers on and round the camp. The dancers know we’re squeamish and should not be put at risk, so we stray no further than the firelight’s edge, never crossing the bounds of the vast out there.
And of course, being on safari, and staying at a luxury, tented camp, we have been taken to visit the vast out there. We went earlier that day and naturally, being tender wazungu, we ventured only in daylight, with the rising sun at our back, and we went, not on foot, but in the Land Rover whose solid sides we were sure would protect us from too much closeness with the wilderness.
copyright 2019 Tish Farrell
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.
Cheetahs asleep in the Maasai Mara
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
Well, it had to be done didn’t it. This week Ailsa’s theme is BEHIND, and this was the first photo I thought of, taken in the Maasai Mara years ago. It’s been a while I think since I last posted it, and bears a re-run.
Also as behinds go, you can’t get much bigger (or wrinklier for that matter) than jumbo-size, and the elephant babe looks so sweet, standing behind its mama. I thought everyone might like an aaaaah moment.
I do not think of Africa in black and white, and when we lived there during the 1990s it was still in the days of conventional photography, and only colour film was readily available. So I am rather intrigued by these monochrome edits from the old Africa photo file.
They were taken in August – in the cool, dry, gloomy season, and the time of the wildebeest migration. We had driven down to the Maasai Mara from Nairobi under lowering skies, taking our visitors, Chris and Les, on safari. The roads were dusty and the bush country parched and dreary looking for mile after mile.
Amongst other things, the first photo shows how empty the landscape can be of wildlife, or indeed of people. In the distance is the Oloololo Escarpment which forms the north west boundary of the Mara Triangle. The tented camp where we were staying was on the Mara River outside the park, and part of the Mara Conservancy, a reserve managed by the Maasai themselves.
The lone tree is a Desert Date (Balanites aegyptiaca ), and is typical of the open savannah where its presence is highly valued by humans and grazing animals alike. It fruits under the driest conditions. The tree has also long provided traditional healers with remedies; like the baobab, Balanites is one of Africa’s tree pharmacies. The fruit’s outer flesh was used for treating skin diseases, and preparations of the root and bark were used to combat malaria.
The oil within the fruit in fact has a host of remarkable properties. It has long been known that it kills the freshwater snails that carry bilharzia and the water fleas that are vectors of guinea-worm disease (Trees of Kenya Tim Noad and Ann Birnie). It has also been studied more recently by Egyptian scientists who reported their findings in the the 2010 Journal of Ethnopharmacology. Their laboratory tests revealed anticancer properties for certain human carcinoma cell lines, as well as demonstrating selected antimicrobial, anthelmintic, and antiviral activity.
An all round useful tree then.
The shape of the trees in the photos is also typical. The result of having their canopies nibbled by passing giraffes, although there are none in sight here – only wildebeest and Thomson’s gazelle.
The thing is, they are noiseless as they move, their footfalls cushioned by pads of fat behind their toes. Of course there are the low frequency stomach rumbles that maintain lines of communication across the herd, but we weren’t close enough to hear those. Or maybe we were too intent on our own stomach rumbles. We had driven out of the Mara River Camp at first light, after only a 5.30 cup of tea. Breakfast was still a distant prospect when we found ourselves among this large, slow-moving herd.
They paid us no attention whatsoever. All we sensed was a wave of communal intention as they headed on through the thorn brush. In fact we were so beneath their notice, Daniel, our driver-guide, decided it would be fine to stop the truck and eat our picnic breakfast as the elephants moved on by. I remember thinking how incongruous it was to be standing out on the Mara plains eating a hard boiled egg while these majestic creatures slowly passed me.
This is not to say that elephants cannot be dangerous; sometimes murderous if they bear a grudge for some harm done them; or if the bulls are in musth. But nothing was amiss this day. It was like one big family outing, the epitome of good elephantine order wherein mothers and children always come first.
copyright 2017 Tish Farrell