July 14, 2009

First Weekend in Kenya - Nairobi National Park

On Sunday we went to the Nairobi National Park at sunrise. We were there for about 4 hours and saw a ton of wildlife. Immediately we came across a herd of water buffalo who look pretty fierce that early in the morning.

We ventured on throughout the park and saw giraffes eating acacia leaves, eland and hart beasts grazing in the fields. There were several herds of zebras who would just stand in the middle of the road staring at us as we approached them in our car and at the very last minute scurry off in a huff. It was a wonderful experience to see the animals in their natural habitat just like you'd find in a National Geographic article or in watching 'Planet Earth'. We were fortunate enough to have seen a black rhino and her baby. Our driver reinforced that we were quite lucky as they are endangered and most folks don't get a chance to see them in the wild.

After driving around the park, of which we didn't even cover half, we stopped at the Athi River where many hippos reside. There was a guide waiting to show tourists around. We noticed right away that he was carrying a gun just in case we encountered an unhappy animal. He took us alongside the river and as we walked we could hear blowing sounds. As the hippos came above water, after being under for 4 minutes, they would breathe heavily in and out of their noses. We could hear this as we approached. We were able to see about 5 hippos hanging out in the cool waters of the river. The guide informed us that they stay in the water throughout the entire day and only get out at night to eat.

We moved on after seeing the hippos to the Sheldrick Elephant Sanctuary. For one hour every day the keepers bring out the baby elephants and feed them in front of a crowd of onlookers with these huge baby bottles full of soy milk. The elephants go crazy and as soon as they are finished head straight to the mud hole where they continue to climb all over each other in a slippery mess. The keepers then address the crowd to explain how each elephant arrived at the orphanage. The number one reason for their presence is poaching. Recently, the Kenyan government released a stockpile of ivory they had sitting around for some time onto the market. I guess they felt the best thing to do was to release it where at least it could make a profit (grrrr). This was seen as an invitation by many to enter into trading ivory (again) and ever since poaching has increased significantly. Abandoned elephants have been found by local farmers who then contact the orphanage. The orphanage raises them until they are about 2 years old at which time they are released into protected areas. Again, we have another case of humans trying to destroy a species for profit. That is why it is so important to create sustainable economic opportunities for people in Africa; so they do not have to exploit their natural resources and wildlife for survival.

Thus far, Kenya seems to be a place of extreme beauty and richness and yet violent crime and desperation. It's a hard life for many here and there is so much corruption that at times life may seem hopeless.....but nothing is hopeless. Many Kenyans are fed up with the theft, violence, and continuous lack of leadership. Things will get better, but they have to come from within.

More pictures to follow....

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