May 1st, 2018
March & April have been extremely sad months all round. Not only have we said goodbye to an incredible herpetologist, Sanda Ashe but also we say ‘Kwaheri’ to our matriarch, Dame Daphne Sheldrick. Both these ladies had an enormous impact on the preservation of a species, through education, conservation and rehabilitation. Each of these formidable ladies was a pioneer in their chosen field, and were never afraid of being the only voices to be raised in support of their beliefs, despite often being ridiculed, ignored and shouted down. They spoke ugly truths that nobody wanted to hear, forced people listen, and in their lifetimes have trained and inspired the dedicated teams who continue to carry forward their great work. This world is a lesser place without them.
I recall the story of Sanda, shocking the locals with her skills, when a hotel in the Watamu area had called the Bio-Ken snake farm for a reptile which had appeared in the roof. James Ashe, also no longer with us, was out of contact, and so it was up to Sanda to go and deal with what had been described as a large house snake which is a relatively harmless species. On arrival, and with the crowds now gathering Sanda clambered up into the roof of this hotel. On closer inspection, the reptile in question was not a House Snake but the much more deadly Black Mamba, and a large one at that! Sanda quickly realised that this was not only a dangerous situation (she had never caught a Black Mamba before) but also a rather embarrassing one. Unsuitably clad for such an exercise, she was wearing a dress and the crowd below could definitely see much more than she would have wished to reveal. She was never quite sure whether the Ooh’s and Aagh’s from below were entirely attributable to her skill in catching this unpleasantly disagreeable snake, but she certainly earned the respect of the entire community for this exploit!
Dr. Daphne Sheldrick was one of the first people I worked for and I spent just over three years in total with the Trust. At the time we had no elephants but we did have two very young Rhinos. I do remember the steady stream of elephants which soon flowed into the Trust nursery, and by the time I left there were 15 orphaned baby elephants in the nursery and we had just translocated six down to the new ‘Ithumba stockades’. This was all covered by Michela Strachen with the TV show “Elephant Diaries” and was a rollercoaster year!
I had many laughs, and plenty of tears, whilst working for the Trust. One occasion that stood out and I can still remember very clearly today, was coming into work one morning and Daphne, in one of her flowery dresses, lobbing the verandah scatter cushions at Magnum (one of the wild Rhino orphans) who had taken it upon himself to clamber up part of the verandah and attack her amazing Geraniums. While Daphne was skilled in so many ways — her throwing arm needed a bit of work, and I remember Magnum with his eyes closed in bliss, slowly chewing through the pink Geraniums as these cushions whistled past his ears — totally undisturbed by this attack. He made no attempt to move, either the Geraniums were worth the barrage of abuse, or he knew (as did I) that it was unlikely that he was going to get hit!
Just to add to the sadness of the first quarter of this year, we have also lost an entire species. The news of the death of Sudan (Photo credit Andrew Campbell Safaris) was global and whilst many say we lose a species a day I do think that the news of Sudan certainly rang alarm bells all over the world. It is clear that extinction is a natural phenomenon, but the rate at which it is now happening is beyond depressing.
We have experienced some amazing weather over the last few weeks and the park has transformed back into a luscious Garden of Eden. The Mbagathi continues to rise and fall as the rains over the past two weeks have been huge, and for those who have only been to the Emakoko when the river is a little trickle just a few feet wide, the transformation is sometimes quite terrifying. The power and ferocity of the tide that comes hurtling down the valley, sometimes more than 100 yards across, is shocking, and we have ourselves seen a Giraffe, foolishly attempting to cross, picked up and hurled down the flood like a wooden toy, and never to be seen again.
In the park itself, the wildlife looks amazing and I am so pleased that ALL of my pot plants have survived the drought and not been knocked over by our resident buffalo herd. Who have finally moved away from the pool and are now back in the park — terrorising motorists!
Koko the Leopard is very much a part of lodge life and I have found myself becoming a little blasé with her. She seems to be wary of everyone (my children included) except for me and makes no attempt to run away or hide if she sees me coming. The other morning I was on my way to town to deliver some eggs to Green Spoon and I caught her coming the other way. With the tall grass now drooping over, heavy with droplets of rain water, she was not interested in the least at getting wet and rather then take the high road and get off the path she simply stood there. I did not fancy my chances with her, and so backed away as she came towards me so she could keep on the path but get out of my way. She slowly walked towards me then took the steps to the Private House (yes this is new news!!). Amazing - but also slightly alarming!
We come to two years on of the burning of the 106 tonnes of Ivory in Nairobi National Park. Kenya continues to fight the Ivory trade and I gather that we have more heavy-weight senior people on board which is great news. On a more positive note, the Black Rhino population in Nairobi National park is doing very well indeed and their have been a few more births over the last few months which is excellent news!
And so, despite the loss of two great pioneers in the field of conservation, life goes on, the earth dries up, rains come and go, and the cycle of birth, life and death continues in the age-old pattern with the only variations caused either by unusual weather conditions or the continuing conflict between the habitat and the human race. We can only hope and pray that others will join the battle for the preservation, so that future generations as yet unborn will not be left with nothing but photographic records of the fabulous wildlife that our generation allowed to become extinct.