Thursday, November 11, 2010
Tsavo West National Park expedition
We returned from expedition around noon today. It was a great but tiring last five days. We were in Tsavo West National Park, which, in partner with Tsavo East N.P, is the second largest park in Africa. This park was different than others that we have been to because it is extremely big and also dominated by dense bushlands and woodlands. That meant that we didn’t see as many animals, but the landscape was phenomenal. As we drove through the park we could see the Chyulu Hills, which run north to south for about 50 km. We visited the Chyulu Hills on Tuesday, and we wondered if we had somehow been transported into a way more green and moist country. The views were awesome anywhere we went in the park – distant hills, very red soils, and lots of green because the rains have started.
We did see animals, of course – elephants (which are really red because of the soil), zebra, the standard antelope species, giraffe, baboons, vervets, buffalo, klipspringer, kudu, oryx, and wild dogs. We were extremely lucky to see the pack of wild dogs – they are very shy and elusive, and the park authorities don’t even have a definite population size for them because it is so hard to monitor them. Seeing the pack (there were close to 30 just lounging on the road) was definitely a highlight! We never saw any lions, which was kind of a disappointment because they are famous for being really aggressive in Tsavo. We did hear a lion while sitting around the fire last night though! Tsavo is a place where you don’t see very many animals around your camp, but there is a high number of incidences of animals attacking people in their tents thanks to the dense vegetation cover. So we had two armed guards at our camp every night who had to escort us to the bathrooms (where lions have hung around in the past) as well as two of our Maasai ascari. We felt quite safe within camp, except from the bugs. As great as it is to feel rain, it brings out lots of not-so-nice things, such as snakes, scorpions, Nairobi flies (which give you burns when they touch you), and tons of beetles that fly into your food... We stepped on many scorpions and found a number in our tents and bags, but only one person got stung. Coming back to camp is a relief because there aren’t as many scorpions here.
Now I’ll give a brief run-down of what we did while in Tsavo. We left camp on Sunday morning and on our drive to Tsavo we stopped for a Wildlife Management lecture on top of a hill that overlooks the Tsavo-Amboseli ecosystem (the subject of our case-study in Kenya). After we entered the park (which is about an hour’s drive from KBC) we stopped at two of the most popular sights within the park. First was the Shetani Lava Flow – a 500 year old deposit of lava that is only just starting to be colonized by vegetation. Then we stopped at Mzima Springs, which boasts hippos, crocodiles, an under-water viewing tank, and very brave monkeys that will do anything for a toursits’ lunch :) We spent the rest of the day setting up camp and relaxing. On Monday we woke up for an early morning game drive (every morning was pretty early – around 5:30 – because the noisy birds at the camp didn’t let you sleep any later). After the game drive we had a guest lecture from the head scientist of the KWS (Kenya Wildlife Service) about the park. On Tuesday afternoon we gave group presentations about the similarities and differences between wildlife management strategies in Kenya and Tanzania that we’ve observed so far. Then we visited the park headquarters and then visited a truck stop right outside of the park where they sell ice cream!
On Wednesday we drove to the Chyulu Hills, where we heard a lecture from Tome, our Environmental Policy professor, about resource issues within the hills. The Chyulu Hills are highly contested between the government (the hills are within a national park and conservation area) and local communities that want access to resources like timber, pasture, and water. Some of the major problems in the hills include wood harvesting for carvings that are sold to tourists as well as issues with unplanned burning of vegetation for charcoal production, poaching, and to control tsetse fly and tick populations. After our lecture, which was on top of a small hill, we climbed a bigger hill that looked west back towards the park, Kimana, and Kilimanjaro. It was a breathtaking view and you could see many hills that looked like they had very recently undergone volcanic eruptions.
On Thursday we went to Ngulia Rhino Sanctuary, a 90 km2 fenced area within Tsavo West that is home to 60 black rhinos. We were shown around the sanctuary and then we heard a lecture by the man in charge. The sanctuary is just as wooded as the rest of Tsavo, and we heard that it might as well be called a unicorn sanctuary because it is so hard to spot rhinos. We never saw a rhino, though we did see dung and tracks and it was a beautiful area. After the sanctuary, we spent the afternoon at Ngulia Lodge, which is perched on the escarpment overlooking the sanctuary. It was the most relaxed afternoon we’ve had in a while – I spent about 3 hours lounging on a chair and reading, or swimming in the pool. It was the smallest pool so far – maybe 15 yards long, but still so nice! I also spent some time searching for rhinos with my binoculars, but no luck. We left around 4 to drive back to the camp, which was too bad because we heard that you can spot rhinos at the watering holes in the later afternoon. It was still a really great day, though, and it was really interesting to hear about rhino conservation, which is making strong improvements in Kenya and Africa in general. We finally got our dose of rain last night, we had been really lucky until then. It started pouring on us around 7 pm and it stopped raining by 1 am. We were very wet and cold in our tents, but now we are all really excited to sleep in dry, warm beds here at camp.
This morning we packed up camp and rode back to camp. We had the afternoon to unpack, do laundry, and start studying for our final exam. Tomorrow is a non-program day and as long as it doesn’t pour we will go on a hike in a gorge and then visit a HIV/AIDs Voluntary Counseling and Testing center (VCT) to meet the people there.
I hope I can post some photos soon, but that depends on the internet and also I have misplaced my camera cord. We returned today and I discovered a large hole in the screen of the window above my bed. It was definitely made by something strong (probably a baboon) and so now I am nervous that there is a baboon running around with my camera cord and ipod (also mysteriously missing). I think I am paranoid - hopefully they will turn up soon. only in Africa!
Posted by Catherine at 10:01 AM