Our almost-spring has reverted to winteriness today, so it’s back to the old Africa album for Square 22 and a bit of midday heat. Am imagining too the smell of the bush – spicy sundried grasses and hot peppery earth – and in my head the seamless kroo-krooing of doves. And because it has amused me ever since I heard it from a tipsy guide in Zambia, I make no apologies for repeating it again here: when it comes to zebras’ butticles, he told us, each has its own unique set of stripes. He further suggested that this was how the offspring recognised their mothers. I have no idea if this is true, but am happy to go along with it if only for the butticles, since they sound more decorous than buttocks and so have remained discriptor of choice in the Farrell household when referring to that particular part of the anatomy. And anyway, zebras do sport such very handsome ones.
You could say that Nairobi’s game park begins where the city stops. It is the only city in the world with a natural, unenclosed wildlife reserve on its peripheries: wilderness and urban sprawl side by side. There is of course an electric fence along the urban perimeter to divide man from beast, but the city is always pressing against the boundary. To the south the park is open to the Athi and Kapiti Plains to allow migrating herbivores such as wildebeest (there are a couple in the background) to come and go. These grasslands are important feeding grounds in the wet season, and so it is essential for the health and wildlife diversity of the park that the southern corridor remains open. When we left Nairobi in 2000 there were fears that it would soon be closed by encroaching farmers, and community initiatives were being devised to avoid this.
By African game park standards the park is very small, 117 square kilometres, but it supports a breath-taking array of animals – lions, cheetahs, leopards, rhino, all the antelopes, and a host of small game. Only elephants are absent. The birdlife is equally diverse with over 500 species. And despite the proximity of the city, there still are wild places where the high rises cannot be seen on the skyline.
There is also another kind of diversity in this photo: the zebra’s stripes. Every individual has its own livery. Once when we were on a game drive on a private ranch in Zambia, our very tipsy guide was insistent that we grasp this fact. “Every zebra’s butticles have different markings,” he declaimed, “so their offspring know how to recognise their mamas.” I have been grateful ever since for that gift of the word ‘butticle’.
copyright 2015 Tish Farrell
Night comes swiftly at the equator, usually at 6 to 6.30 pm. But around 5 pm there is that perfect moment when the light is like molten honey. This shot was only a quick snap, taken after a game drive, and as we were heading back to camp on the Mara River. Our driver-guide was intent on one last go at spotting a leopard. For our part, we were simply entranced by this scene. Even at the time it seemed as if we had stepped into an oil painting. Besides, this was the most game we’d seen in one place all afternoon. Because that is something that wild life films tend not to show you: that you can drive for hours across the African bush and not see a single animal.
There is also more going on in this scene than is immediately obvious. Behind the zebra are some wildebeest; then the giraffe between the thorns. I’m not sure what the pale animal is on the top left horizon, but from its size I’d say it is probably an eland. Then if you look carefully just below the right hand bough of the right hand thorn tree, you might make out a brown dog-like shape. Hyena. There will doubtless be others in the grass. Once it was thought they were only scavengers, moving in on big cats’ kills. But now they are known to be hunters too. They prey on gazelles and larger antelope. Even a lone hyena can bring down a full-grown wildebeest, and pack away 15 kilos of meat at one sitting. They have jaws like industrial meat grinders, and believe me, to come upon one at close quarters, is not recommended.
Sunday Stills: Crowd Work
copyright 2014 Tish Farrell