Tag Archives: wildlife

Come on a safari with me!

Standard

IMG_1814

IMG_1815
The last two days of my week in Kenya were spent at the fantastic Maasai Mara Game Reserve.  I was accompanied by  my new friend Salaton and I felt extremely privileged to have the tribal chief as my personal safari guide!  We were driven in a 4-wheel drive van with a pop-up top, so I could stand up and take pictures.

This was my first real safari and I didn’t quite know what to expect.  I was expecting to see animals, of course, but nothing really prepared me for the enormous space of the Mara, or of how up close and personal we were able to get to the animals.  Since they have learned that these funny-looking two-legged creatures in the noisy contraptions are neither prey nor predator, they mostly ignore us completely…going about their business and allowing us to gawk.

I was able to see more than 30 different animals; most closely enough to get a good look and a good picture.  ALL the pictures here were taken with my little point-and-shoot camera.

We saw giraffes before we even got into the boundaries of the reserve…and later saw more, even closer.

IMG_1900 IMG_1899 IMG_1806 IMG_1807

As I had hoped, we saw many elephants.  There were even a couple of babies…but the mother carefully herded them away as we approached.

IMG_1840 IMG_1841IMG_1913

 

We saw several kinds of vultures…some in trees and a bunch feeding on the carcass of a dead elephant.

IMG_1902 IMG_1890 IMG_1831 IMG_1834 IMG_1835

I got a good shot of a malibu stork, which is the bird I saw flying from a distance on my bird watch last month.

IMG_1865

There were other birds, too….a secretary bird and a pair of Egyptian ducks with their little babies, no bigger than feather-balls.

IMG_1869

We saw a lot of zebras and wildebeests.  This was the end of their big migration (they tend to migrate together) and at one point, we saw a HUGE herd of them walking slowing across the plain.  There were also gazelles, impala, antelope and eland.

IMG_1867 IMG_1857 IMG_1870 IMG_1864 IMG_1819IMG_1919 IMG_1816

 

We came upon a couple of water buffalo, which apparently is one of the more dangerous animals, as they have been known to charge a vehicle!  And we also saw some warthogs…and some adorable babies, trotting along after their parents.  (“The Kenyan express,” Salaton said.)  I was unable to get a picture of the babies, but did get a snapshot of one hog hiding under a bush.

IMG_1823IMG_1882

 

Of course, everyone wants to see the majestic lion.  We came upon four different male lions.  May I present: The King Of Beasts!

IMG_1852 IMG_1854 IMG_1884 IMG_1885

Meanwhile, the female lion had made a kill and was guarding it carefully.  There was a flock of vultures nearby, waiting for her to be finished.

IMG_1862 IMG_1863 IMG_1864

We were lucky enough to see a cheetah – although not close enough for a good picture, I was able to view it through my binoculars.  It was sitting under a tree, looking like a huge housecat as it licked its paws and yawned.

Later on, we came upon a pair of lions.  Salaton said it looked as though they might be getting ready to mate, and indeed, the male put on a great show to the female – approaching her several times with his hips swaying and making huffing sounds.  He even went so far as to urinate most spectacularly right in front of her nose (and I got a picture of him doing it!) However, she was unimpressed and merely moved away from him.  He sat down again to wait for another opportunity.

IMG_1903 IMG_1907 IMG_1906

Just before lunch, we found a watering hole with at least a dozen hippos!  They did not come out of the water (which was probably a good thing) but we could see their heads and ears and hear their snuffling sounds…almost like whales…as they surfaced to breathe.

IMG_1875 IMG_1874

 

More animals included a bushback (very rare to see; as they are quite shy…) a jackal, an ostrich (which is HUGE and looks like a mistake in design!), some mongoose and a couple of crocodiles, swimming near the hippos.

IMG_1896 IMG_1891 IMG_1890 IMG_1873 IMG_1850

We encountered some Maasai boys just as we were having our lunch and gave them all our bread-and-butter sandwiches.  I remembered to touch their heads and say “supa” to them – who knows what they thought of me, a mzungu woman with white hair, a big floppy hat and green sunglasses!  But they smiled and said “supa” back to me.

It was a fantastic way to end my week in Kenya.

IMG_1877 IMG_1880

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A week with the Maasai!

Standard

Map of Maasai camp

 

Maji Moto Maasai Cultural Camp

The Maasai are an ancient people with ancient traditions.  I read an article in the New York Times travel section about the “Maji Moto Maasai Cultural Camp” and I decided to spend my October break doing something…well, a bit different!

Through the Eyes of the Maasai 

I got into Nairobi on Friday evening and was taken to a small hotel near the airport.  Nairobi is the capital of Kenya and a fairly developed city, with a number of sky-scrapers, a bustling downtown and huge traffic jams.  Tiampati, my Maasai driver, picked me up promptly at 9:00am for the 3 and a half hour drive to the camp, which is outside of Narok and just on the border of the Masa Mara game reserve.  We stopped at a viewpoint along the way at the Great Rift Valley, which extends almost 10,000 kilometers from the Red Sea all the way to Mozambique.

IMG_1598 IMG_1596 IMG_1595 IMG_1594 IMG_1593

There were many sight-seers at the rest stop…you could purchase crafts and souvenirs, tea or coffee and take pictures.  Some locals saw their opportunity and approached anyone who looked like a tourist (ie: any white person) to try to sell their wares.  One man kept appearing behind me and saying “Hakuna matata!” while pointing to the shop behind him.  Another man was selling roast corn on a stick (a very common road-side snack)  He would hold it up and shout “Yum yum!  Yum yum!” and was very persistent, even following me as I got into the car.  I politely declined, buying only a cup of tea.

We continued onward through the valley and past tiny towns and wide open spaces.  Cows, goats and sheep were everywhere.  Finally, we reached the town of Narok; a fairly large town by Kenyan standards and the main town for many Maasai.  From here we turned onto a dirt road, which became incredibly bumpy and dusty…we were heading into the Mara.  After about 45 minutes, we turned at a small sign that said “Maji Moto Maasai Camp” and the road became even narrower.  Small groups of mud huts could be seen here and there and there were many flocks of goats and sheep, usually tended by a small boy.  Finally we arrived at the camp and were greeted by a group of Maasai warriors.  They sang and danced for me and I was given a shuka (traditional Maasai shawl)

IMG_1602 IMG_1603

The camp consisted of several buildings, all constructed in the traditional manner of mud, ashes, cow dung and timber.  These had been “westernized” in that they had windows, stone floors and a door you could walk through (rather than crawl.)  They were quite cool inside and very comfortable.

IMG_1608 IMG_1614 IMG_1606

There was a wash-station and a toilet and outdoor shower, which was filled from the hot springs of Maji Moto (which means, literally, “Water Fire”)  Everything was very clean and neat and it really felt like you belonged to the earth.

There were many plants and trees and animals around the camp and you could see the Loita Hills rising above you.  All the food was cooked in the outdoor kitchen on a wood fire and was simple and delicious.
IMG_1697 IMG_1695 IMG_1634

IMG_1620 IMG_1612 IMG_1616 IMG_1617

I walked down to the hot springs with Rose, one of the volunteers at the camp.  There is a large windmill that pumps the water for two communal showers there (one for men, one for women.)  The women come to fill their water barrels – huge plastic containers that they carry with a strap around the forehead back to their village (sometimes several miles away.)  Some people have a donkey or two to carry more water. Clothes-washing is done here as well, and there is a watering hole for the animals a bit downstream where the water is cooler.

IMG_1622 IMG_1623 IMG_1624 IMG_1626 IMG_1698

That night, the warriors demonstrated how they traditionally started a fire, using a stick and a piece of tinder.  They twirled the stick in their hands, rubbing it against a flat piece of wood with the tinder underneath and their machete under that.  When the tiny tinder was lit, they would carefully transfer it to a larger clump of dry cedar shavings and then gradually add wood until the fire was blazing.

IMG_1629 IMG_1633

That first night, I sat around the fire with four Maasai warriors.  The stars came out one by one and the warriors sang traditional songs.  Most of the songs were a kind of chanting call-and-response and most were about cattle and women.

In the Maasai traditional religion, their god Enkai stretched a long piece of bark from heaven and all the cattle were able to walk down to earth on it.  Enkari gave all the cattle to the Maasai.  A jealous  god broke the bark and so young Maasai warriors often jump as high as they can to try to reach the cattle still up in heaven.  Apparently, high jumpers also attract young women.

The next day, Salaton, the tribal chief who runs the camp and another warrior named Coila, took me on a hike up Loita Hill.  On the way, the two warriors demonstrated spear-throwing.  A Maasai warrior almost always carries a spear.  The narrow end is for practice and the wide end for protection.  After they had thrown their spears at a tree and missed several times in a row, Salaton turned to me and said gravely, “You are not safe!”   He and Coila thought this was very funny.
IMG_1640

IMG_1644

Loita Hills once were part of a vast volcanic range and the rock formations are strange and beautiful.

IMG_1658 IMG_1659 IMG_1660 IMG_1666 IMG_1668 IMG_1675

There were many colorful trees and flowers…even in the hot, dry climate.

IMG_1670 IMG_1679 IMG_1680

There are over 40 varieties of acacia tree…this one is called a “whistling acacia.”  The hard, black bulb-like things on the tree are made by ants as a nest.  When the ants leave the nest, they make holes in the surface.  And then, when the wind blows, it whistles through the holes.

IMG_1681

On the way back, we came across a young boy looking after the goats.  In Maasai culture, when you meet a child, you touch their head and say “Supa.”  This is a sign of respect.  Most young children will come up to you and lower their head to be touched.

IMG_1684

When we got back down to the camp, I was hot and tired…I looked up to where we had climbed and felt like I had touched the sky.

IMG_1655 IMG_1662

IMG_1677

 

Next: Visiting the Widows Village, the Conservation Project, Warrior Training and a two-day trek across the Loita Plains.

An incredible visit to the Chimfunshi wildlife refuge.

Standard

DSC03094

The Chimfunshi Wildlife Orphanage in central Zambia is a non-profit refuge that cares for a wide variety of sick, wounded or unwanted animals — but the primary residents are over 100 orphaned chimpanzees.  Last week, I was privileged to chaperone the 9th grade field trip to this unique and fascinating place…and to learn about chimpanzees – our closest cousins on the evolutionary tree, with more than 99% of our genetic make-up in common.

NOTE: With the exception of the photos of the school, these wonderful pictures were taken by my colleague, Heather PIllar, a professional photographer.

From their website: Chimfunshi was founded in 1983 when a game ranger brought a badly wounded infant chimpanzee to the cattle ranch of David and Sheila Siddle, a British couple who had lived in along the Zambian Copperbelt since the 1950s. The Siddles nursed that chimp – nicknamed “Pal” – back to health, thereby establishing a tradition of care and respect that forms the legacy of the sanctuary.  Once word of Pal’s recovery spread, the Siddles found themselves inundated with orphaned chimpanzees. Although many are confiscated from poachers who attempt to smuggle the infants into Zambia for sale as pets, an equally large number are rescued from dilapidated zoos and circuses from all over Africa, Asia, Europe and South America.  The Siddles bestow love and care upon the traumatized apes and gradually introduce them to the extended family at Chimfunshi. Five social groups inhabit the free-range enclosures that span 1,100 acres at the orphanage, including three 500-acre enclosures, the largest area ever set aside for captive primates.

More about Chimfunshi here: http://www.chimfunshi.org.za/  (And worth a read…)

After a long bus ride, we arrived at the main camp and got unpacked.  The camp is situated out in the bush; there are a number of rustic cabins, a central pavillion, a kitchen and a meeting room.  All electricity is provided by solar power and any kind of Wifi is non-existent.  We were given a introduction by one of the staff members and saw a video about the rescue of “Toto,” one of the chimps now at the orphanage.

DSC03100 DSC03101 DSC03102

The next day, we walked to the enclosures…about 4 km down a dirt road. DSC02958 DSC02959 DSC02964

The enclosures are the “second stage” of the sanctuary.  Here are chimps that have been successfully integrated into family groups and live fairly independently in enclosures about 10 – 15 acres in size.  They are not ready yet to be released into the huge, 500 acre enclosures as wild chimps, but except for feeding time, they are pretty much left alone.  The staff never go into the enclosures and the chimps only come to the borders for meals.  This is so that the staff can ensure that the chimps are eating enough and monitor them.  We also got to watch them being fed…they eat vegetables and fruits and they love nshima (a kind of cornmeal paste.)  They will negotiate with each other for food and steal it from other chimps who aren’t paying attention.  But they can also be generous and will share with a youngster or a chimp who is their friend.

DSC02967 DSC03042DSC03030DSC03034

Each student was assigned a chimp to observe every 30 seconds for one hour.  They had codes to record various behaviors.  Sometimes the chimps would be very active – grooming, vocalizing, interacting with other chimps, climbing a tree, throwing rocks, cuddling their babies and sometimes behaving aggressively, including loud hoots and shrieks.  But some of them simply seemed to like the easy life and spent a good portion of the observation time relaxing. (Much to the disappointment of their observer!)

DSC03155 DSC03173 DSC03149 DSC03073 DSC03076 DSC03082 DSC03068 DSC03057 DSC03053 DSC03047

The next day, we visited the Orphanage.  This is where animals are taken when they first come to Chimfunshi.  Many times, they have been so badly treated that it is impossible to move them to the larger enclosures…but the staff still strives to give them as natural an environment as possible.  “Toto,” the chimp in the video who was rescued from a circus in Chile was there.  He had been captured at age 2, along with 3 other baby chimps.  (Also, sometimes 10 – 12 adult chimps will die trying to protect a baby chimp.)  The other baby chimps died on their way to Chile and Toto was kept for more than 20 years in a crate about a meter wide, taught to smoke and drink and wear clothes.  He was castrated, chained by the neck and had most of his teeth pulled out.  When, he finally arrived at Chimfunshi (thanks to many people from many countries) he had not seen another chimpanzee for almost 25 years.

When he finally was let out of quarantine, he was cautiously introduced to a little 5 year old orphan chimp named “Madonna.”  He approached her carefully, and then reached out his long arms and enfolded her in an embrace.  He paid no more attention to the humans, but focused all his attention on his companion – able to be with one of his own kind at last.  (Go on, watch the video!  It is quite moving.)

Video about Toto: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rqiEqUlB7V4

A website about his remarkable rescue: http://www.savetheprimates.org/happyendings/stories/saved-toto-the-chimpanzee

He’s an old man now…almost 37 years old, but he could live for another 20 years.  And although he cannot be released into the larger enclosures, due to his age, infirmities and the fact that he was castrated, he has bonded with several other chimps in a “family” and he is respected by them because of his age.

DSC02985 DSC03200DSC03220

We also met Sheila Siddle, the co-founder of Chimfunshi.  (Her husband David died a number of years ago, and she has carried on with the work.)  She was fostering a baby chimp whose mother had rejected her.  The baby is 4 months old.

DSC03196 DSC03192 DSC03188

Chimfunshi also sponsors a school for the families who live in and around the area.  This is a one-room school house, for kids ages 5 – 11.  There are about 40 kids in the classroom…this is how it looks empty.

IMG_1590 IMG_1589

Our kids came and introduced themselves to the students and even though all the students spoke Bemba and all our kids (except one) did not, they seemed to have a good time playing together.

IMG_1591 IMG_1588 IMG_1587DSC03129 DSC03122 DSC03115

That evening, we were supposed to watch “The Rise of the Planet of the Apes” but something went wrong with the DVD player…so some of our kids acted out the movie for us…it was hilarious.

DSC03235

I thought Chimfunshi was a fascinating place and I really admire the work that is being done there.  Chimpanzees are highly intelligent, social, complex individuals who are suffering due to poaching, “bush meat” hunters, loss of habitat and general indifference.    Their numbers are decreasing at an alarming rate with only an estimated 150,000 still living in the wild.  Surely our closest living “relatives” deserve better from us.

“Chimpanzees have suffered so much pain and trauma at the hands of humans, yet they still have the grace to forgive us.”  (Sheila Siddle)

DSC02966

 

 

 

Victoria Falls…and a cruise on the Zambezi

Standard

IMG_1235

The Victoria Falls are considered one the natural wonders of the world.  And even though I went during “dry season” they were still spectacular.   The pictures I took definitely do not do justice to the magnificence of the falls, the cliffs, the deep gorges cut by the river or the scenery.

When I entered the park, I was asked by a very nice young park ranger if this was my first time at the falls. When I said that it was, he offered to take me around and show me everything.  There was no charge (although I gave him a sizeable tip, because he made my experience so much more informative and fun.)  His name was Francis.

IMG_1247IMG_1223

“Dr. Livingstone, I presume?”

There was a large statue of David Livingstone near the park entrance.  He was the first European to see the falls and he named them after his queen.

IMG_1230

My first glimpse of the falls took my breath away.  The sight of the silver water, cascading down the mile-high cliff was just…well, “beautiful” seems inadequate.  During the rainy season, all the bare rock you see in these pictures is covered with water, and the falls are one huge wall of water, thundering down and creating a smoke-like mist that can make it difficult to see the falls themselves.  In fact, the local (and official) name for Victoria Falls is “Mosi-oa-Tunya” which means “Thundering Smoke.”

IMG_1224 IMG_1227 IMG_1225 IMG_1243 IMG_1246

We could see the bridge that separates Zambia from Zimbabwe.  You can walk across this bridge (you have to go through customs to do so!) and also bungee jump off it!  There were some people bungee-ing when we were there…you could hear them screaming with delight (or fear?) as they bounced down and back.

IMG_1253

After we had taken in the view from several vantage points, Francis asked me if I would like to walk down to the “Boiling Pot.”  This is a place where the water comes rushing in from several directions, creating a churning pool, as if the water were boiling.  He told me that the path down took about 15 minutes, but going back up would take about 25  and that I would be “very tired.”

Of course I said, “Yes!”

IMG_1267IMG_1270 IMG_1272 IMG_1271 IMG_1262

It was a lovely place; shady and cool.  I took off my shoes and socks and soaked my feet in the water.  I would have loved to sit there for the afternoon!

On the way back up (which was tiring, but not a bad climb!) we stopped to rest where a large family of baboons was hanging out under a big tree, playing and chattering in a very human fashion.  There was a mother nursing her baby and after the baby was done, it peeked out over its mothers arms to look at us.

IMG_1274IMG_1277IMG_1279

Back at the top, I realized that I was starving.  I thanked my guide and took off for the refreshment stand.  The only food that they had besides snack-type things like chips or candy were meat pies.  So that’s what I had for lunch…and I was pleasantly surprised to find that it was a proper British-style pasty, with a wonderfully flaky crust and deliciously spiced beef and potatoes inside.  I devoured it, along with a bottle of fruit punch.

When I got back to my B & B, I took a hot shower and sat in the cool of the gazebo for a while, with a cup of tea.  Then it was time to go on the cruise.  The proprietor had recommended the “cheaper” cruise; he said they served free drinks and you could see much more from the smaller boat!  Four other people from the B & B were also going, so we had a nice group.

It was a wonderful evening.  We were served a huge plate of appetizers, there was an open bar and then we had a braai (charcoal bar-b-que) with chicken and sausage, plus salad, cole slaw and rolls.  We watched the “rich people” boat gliding near us and decided that we definitely got the better deal.  (Apparently that cruise cost almost three times as much and there was no food or drinks included!)

We saw elephant, hippo and some beautiful birds…also more baboons and a warthog who came snuffling down to the edge of the river.  Unfortunately, he was camera shy.

IMG_1286 IMG_1290 IMG_1301 IMG_1299 IMG_1293 IMG_1304 IMG_1306

And as the boat turned around to head back to the dock, we were treated to a Zambian sunset.

IMG_1312IMG_1315

I plan to return to the falls in March, to see it during the rainy season…in all its thundering, smoky glory.

(Oh, and I took a different bus line back!  Much more comfortable and no blaring music – although they did start with a prayer for safe travels.  And given the state of Zambian roads and the way people drive, was not a bad thing!)

Sunday Market and a mini-game drive.

Standard

IMG_0997

For the last day of our new teacher orientation, we all piled into the bus and went to the Sunday craft market at the new Arcades Mall.  This is a smaller market, with many local crafts such as rugs, baskets, masks, statues, fabric, furniture and other traditional African items.  It was a colorful scene and I could easily see doing most of my Christmas shopping here.  Vendors would stand in the middle of the aisle and if they saw you even glance at their wares, would try to coax you closer to take a look.  “Just a look, Madam!  Not to buy!  Just to look!  See what I have!  Just a small look!”

IMG_0993 IMG_0994 IMG_0996 IMG_0991

There were many beautiful items.  I was looking for some baskets for my house and also planned to buy several lengths of colorful fabric to hang on the walls, as the house is very plain and stark.  I am proud to say that I stuck to my plan, although I was sorely tempted by the incredible array of masks and wooden carvings.  I came away with four beautiful hand-made baskets, two with handles and two bowl-shaped ones.  I think I got a bargain on those.  And I bought five 2-meter lengths of printed cloth to hang on the wall.  I think I probably paid too much for those.  But it all evens out in the end.

Then we piled ourselves and our purchases back into the bus for a trip to a nearby lodge and game farm.  This is not one of the huge game parks that are several hours out of the city, but a more sedate affair only about 45 minutes away.  It was called the “Protea Hotel Safari Lodge.”   A beautiful setting on a lake, with a delicious lunch buffet.  As is my habit, I tried some of the more unusual offerings.  The salad table had an enormous variety.  I had some kind of coleslaw-like dish that was made of thinly sliced turnip with a creamy dressing…very nice.  And a cold lemon soup – again, a light cream base and a refreshing taste.  I also had a skewer of marinated beef and what I think was pork, along with an eggplant dish and fresh green beans.  There was the ubiquitous nsmiba to use as a base.  And my dessert was something called “South African Friendship Cake” which was like a very light cheesecake with a crumbly crust.

Protea Safari LodgeLake by the lodgeLazy lion

You could walk around the grounds and view the very tame impala and other deer-like animals who would come right up to the edge of the dining area.  And the lodge has three very old lions – a brother and sister and their father (the mother died of old age last year, apparently) who seem to spend most of their time just lying around, looking as bored as only a cat can.  Then some of us took a short “game drive” with a guide.  No really big game at this lodge, but we did see zebra, warthog, sable, impala, several beautiful large birds and baboons.   And some enormous anthills!  I was not able to get pictures of everything from the bumpy van…but I did get some!  Anthills!A "zebra crossing"Tree grown around another treeAnd baby makes three...A sable

It was a wonderful way to end a week of orientation.  Today all the staff returned and we started to really plan the year!