When we were in Tanzania we were told about how Kenyans are louder and live an overall faster lifestyle than Tanzanians. We have definitely experienced a pick-up of the pace since arriving in Kenya. It has been a busy week here, with lots of classes that are being fit in before our expedition (we leave tomorrow morning for Tsavo West National Park), final exam, and directed research projects. We’ve had a number of field lectures and exercises to familiarize ourselves with our area of Kenya and the environmental issues present in the area. I just turned in a paper summarizing the results of a rangeland condition assessment (we set up plots along transects in the bush near our camp and looked at vegetation and soil characteristics).
We’ll all be relieved when we get to Tsavo, because it feels like we’ve been constantly busy all week and I haven’t had much time to get excited about expedition. We’ll have a bunch of field lectures and some exercises and also we’ll hear from some park rangers in Tsavo and in a rhino sanctuary that we’ll visit close to the park. We just watched a movie about Mzima Springs, where we’ll go tomorrow, which is a site in the park known for its hippos and crocodiles. So, here are some interesting facts about hippos – an adult hippo produces about 20 kilograms of fertilizer per day, baby food for hippos is adult hippo dung, and a newborn hippo weighs around 40 kilos.
Ok, now I will talk about our trip to Amboseli National Park, which we took on Thursday. We had a guest lecture on Thursday morning by a woman who works on the Amboseli elephant project, and then we drove to the park and had a class as we drove around the park. It rained all morning so we sat in the land cruisers and took notes as our professor, Shem, spoke to us over the vehicle radios. It was still really interesting, and kind of fun to drive through a park in the rain. We saw a cheetah lounging in the grass and seeing it shrouded by the rain was pretty eerie and mysterious. We also realized that it is always possible for roads in Africa to get worse…
After our morning class we drove to Amboseli Serena Lodge, a really nice tourist lodge within the park. I had been optimistic about the possibility of going to the lodge and having time to swim, so I had thrown my suit into my bag that morning, even as it was pouring rain. The rain cleared by the afternoon so I spent a glorious 25 minutes swimming all alone in a nice, kidney bean-shaped pool. I have really been missing swimming lately (as I think about how the NESCAC season just started!) so it was really refreshing to steep in chlorine for a bit.
We had a game drive out of the park in the late afternoon and, because the weather had cleared, we got to enjoy the views of the park more than we had in the morning. Amboseli is known for its large mammals, particularly elephants, because it contains three swamps that support them during the dry season. So we were able to see huge groups of elephants munching on grass in and around the swamps. The highlight of this part of the day was when we came upon a group of elephants that were really close to the road and had one extremely aggravated young male. We figured that he was in mus
tth (wanting to mate) and that he was trying to challenge the resident, dominant male of the herd. He would approach the dominant male and they’d clash tusks and push at each other, but the dominant male wasn’t very perturbed by him and often kept on eating grass as they fought. Then the young male crossed the road and tried to put the moves, so to speak, on a female who was similarly unimpressed.
I should put the situation in context a little before I describe what happened next… At least 8 cars were parked along the road near this elephant battle ground, and half of the cars were facing one way while the other half faced the other way. So a bunch of cars were piled together and I’m sure were uncomfortably close for the angry elephant. A car across from my car decided it was time to drive away right after the male confronted the female (probably not a good idea) and the only direction for them to go was forward – towards our car and straight towards the angry elephant. This car’s movement forced our driver, Harrison, to maneuver the car out of its way, but as we did this, the angry elephant channeled his testosterone at us and started to run towards us. So… we were being chased by an angry elephant while at the same time coming close to a head-on collision with another car. Harrison’s superb driving skills and fast reflexes brought us to safety – he floored the land rover and veered around the approaching car. The angry elephant didn’t follow us for very long – he stopped in the center of the road and gave a loud and frustrated trumpet sound. Then he proceeded to go challenge the dominant male again…
We all felt pretty awestruck after this experience. Moments before, we had been happily watching the proceedings, just like all the other cars. Then, all of a sudden, we were being charged! It was exhilarating, scary, and then funny after the fact. We all decided it was also humbling – we, extremely environmentally aware SFS students, always look at other tourists in the parks as kind of silly and unaware compared to us. We would never expect that it would be one of our cars that gets chased by an elephant!
Suffice it to say, Thursday was a really fun day and we all want to go back to Amboseli. I think we’ll be able to go on one of our non-program days in late November. It will be fun to see more elephants, though hopefully we won’t provoke one again… Also, Aboseli is directly below Mount Kilimanjaro. Because of the rain and super low cloud cover on Thursday, we never saw it. But if we go when it is clear it will be stunning!
All right, I look forward to recounting tales from our expedition. If you are interested, you can look up info on Tsavo West National Park, Chyulu Hills, and Mzima Springs to learn about where we’ll be. Tsavo West is known for its aggressive animals (something we were briefed about today by the student affairs manager). So you might encounter stories about the man-eating lions of the park… There is also a movie called “Ghost in the Darkness”, or something like that, which tells the story of some particularly ravenous lions. Don’t worry too much though, because we will have armed guards around our campsite at night and now that we have survived being charged by an elephant, we can handle anything!