Wednesday, May 23, 2007

On to Amboseli

Leaving Rwanda, we stopped at the Genocide Museum in Kigali. To see it well, you need at least 2 hours, and we only had one. It's depressing, but worthwhile. The museum has a lot of information about the genocide which took place 13 years ago. I was surprised to learn about the role of the French in assisting the killers. It's shocking to think about how horrible and swift the killing was, and to contemplate how the U.S. and the rest of the world did nothing to stop it. Even worse, we're currently failing to help in Darfur. It's disgusting what we could do to help vs. what we do, and I'll refrain from further comment to keep the blog focus on animals.

The flight from Kigali to Nairobi was short and uneventful. I parted from my travel companions and headed off to Kenya myself, to see Amboseli, which I missed last trip, and to go north to Samburu to look for the baby elephant I saw born in October, 2005. I stayed at the Karen Blixen Cottages (lovely) for a night and headed to Amboseli via bush plane the next day. On the short flight, I could see Kilamanjaro in the distance, and as we began to land, I could see elephant footprints from the air a long ways off, and then wildebeasts scattering to get out of the way so we could land.

On the first game drive in Amboseli I was lucky enough to see elephants fighting for mating rights (pictured above) and elephants actually mating, twice! The trumpeting associated with mating was very impressive to hear - much louder than I have ever heard elephants being before. I watched the young female pictured above, mating, as she was chased by the male and then reluctantly and briefly mounted. I don't think in this case he got the job done before having to get down and defend himself from another male seeking the same privileges. The young female ran back to her family and she seemed upset, flapping her ears and remaining defensive. She did not give the impression of desiring further contact.

Amboseli always looks wet on TV, and I was traveling in the "rainy season," but it was very dry. While there are some year-round swamps in Amboseli and a lake of sorts, there are also vast areas of dry, dusty, cracked soil that looks like it hasn't seen rain in ages. Amboseli was once acacia forests and one had a lot more water from Kilamanjaro snowmelt also. Between global warming and loss of the trees, the environment here has radically changed from what it was in the past. There is a small area of the park that they have fenced off from elephants where they are apparently re-growing yellow bark acacia, but it's unclear what they plan to do next, whether this will be expanded to the rest of the park or whether the fences will be removed one day. Supposedly the project is over 10 years old but I wasn't able to get any information on what will happen next to the small reforested island of vegetation.

It was cool to see elephants in the swamp, half wet and dark, half dry and grey. All the animals head towards the water in the heat of the day, and I saw lots of zebra, wildebeast, buffalo and elephants, as well as some hippo. I was told not to expect to see predators at Amboseli, but I hoped to eventually run into some cats or hyena, and I was not to be disappointed this trip.

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