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Kenya - February 2009

You are here: Travel Reports Kenya - February 2009

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  Jan Sunday, 01 March 2009 20:16

Kenya - February 2009



JANUARY 31 – FEBRUARY 18, 2009




I hesitated as to whether to post a trip report this time as my trips are always very similar since I focus on elephants and stay in the same places trip after trip.  However, a couple things happened this time that I feel, sadly, need to be shared.  Thus this report.


Due to the poor economy, my flight from Boston to Amsterdam was only half full this time.  Boston’s airport seemed empty to what I’ve seen in 14 previous trips.  However, the flight from Amsterdam to Nairobi was completely full.  Knowing that there is an extra visa both at JKIA, I hurried to that hidden site and was taken right away.  However, I was disappointed to see that Kenya is still hand-writing their visas and receipts.  Things could move along much more quickly if everything were computerized.


Early the next morning I flew to Mombasa and was picked up by Southern Cross Safaris.  Since their bus leaves for Tsavo around 8 a.m. and I had missed it, I was driven directly to Tsavo.  After passing through the Buchuma Gate on 2-2-09, I noticed a huge herd of cattle off to the right of the road.   In the past many Somalis have brought their cattle to Kenya to graze during the dry season which is not good because it leaves less grazing for Kenyan cattle and wildlife.  We proceeded on to Satao Camp.  It was great being welcomed back to my home away from home.


The next morning I was sitting on my veranda filming the elephants, zebras, giraffe and buffalo (huge herd of over 350).  I looked to my left toward the dry river bank and what do I see but two COWS!    They came up over the river bank and proceeded to calmly walk past the waterhole and walked right across the entire camp!  KWS was called.  It wasn’t until 7 hours later that KWS showed up with the cow’s owner looking for the cows.  It turned out that the owner was missing 36 cows in the park – at least the lions would be well fed!  Naturally by the time KWS showed up with the owner of the cattle, they were long gone.


Poaching has again become a real problem since CITES decided to allow the sale of ivory to China.  Many Chinese now working in Kenya have asked the local people to find them ivory.  Dead elephants have been found with ivory hacked out in both Amboseli (formerly a safe haven for elephants) and in the group ranches surrounding Tsavo.  Kenya Wildlife Service has been so very busy trying to find the poachers.  Elephants have been found with poison arrows in them and there is no antidote for the poison.  It is a long dreadful suffering for the injured animal.

The veterinarian for Tsavo and Amboseli has been kept very busy helping to rescue orphaned elephants and attempting to treat injured ones.


Tsavo has always had large herds of buffalo, but I’ve never seen them at Satao before.  Therefore, it was great seeing them in large numbers coming to the waterhole several times a day.  The kongoni had come back (I hadn’t seen any in August) – and this time I was treated to 19 eland at the waterhole (extremely rare for that area of Tsavo).  Yes, it was the dry season so water was in short supply, but that has been the case on each of my trips.


Bobby, the host/manager of Satao, knowing how much I hate snakes, had to show me some of his pictures.  They had 3 incidences of the Ash cobra in camp last spring.  One of the pictures he took showed an Ash cobra that was in the process of swallowing a puff adder.   Luckily I saw no snakes in camp this time.  Fellow Bushdrummer, Katherine, went out with one of the askaris to hunt for snakes (as she loves them) but only found two old unhatched snake eggs.  She really enjoyed her walks around camp seeing all the pug marks, learning about different types of dung, etc.  It was great officially meeting her and sharing our love of wildlife.  Bobby just emailed me this morning that one of the camp's genet cats was killed by a puff adder yesterday.


On the night of 2-13/early morning 2/14, there was a huge commotion at the waterhole with the elephants trumpeting and making a real ruckus.  I didn’t know what was going on, and in the morning I asked the askari what had happened.  It turned out that a lioness and two cubs had come to the waterhole for water when about 300 buffalo were there.  The buffalo stampeded injuring one of their own old bulls.   In the morning we could see that the buffalo bull sustained two broken front legs.  We assumed, let Nature take its course, and figured that the lions would get him that Saturday night.  However, Sunday morning the poor guy was still suffering – attempting to walk on his hind legs and front elbows.  It was very sad.  Bobby called KWS wanting them to come and shoot the poor animal and put him out of his misery, but no-one answered the telephone.  He called again Monday and no-one showed up.  Tuesday KWS said they would send someone out, but no-one showed up.  Finally after I got home I got an email that Bobby had finally been able to get the veterinarian who came to dart the bull with an overdose – almost a week from the time of his injury.  Not an acceptable reaction from KWS. 


I always try to see both sides of a story.  I know full well KWS was extremely busy with poaching problems in both Amboseli and Tsavo, having to shoot four problem buffalo bulls causing problems for the people at Taita ranch in which one of the KWS rangers was injured, assisting in rescue of elephant orphans – of which there are now 19 at the Nairobi Sheldrick Wildlife Trust – the most they have ever had.  However, KWS should have an “emergency telephone line” that will be answered 24 hours a day/7 days a week where they can assign a ranger to respond to a problem.   In Satao’s particular case, it would have needed only one ranger with a gun – the buffalo couldn’t charge because of the broken legs.  I have written KWS about my disappointment with the way things were handled and hope that in the future things will improve on that score. 


As you all know, tourist numbers are still way down following the clashes of last year.  Camps and lodges are really hurting and in many cases have had to lay off some of their employees.  Now with the economy so bad everywhere, it certainly hasn’t helped at all.  With tourist numbers being fewer, one would expect the level of service to be superior.  However, I found it to be just the opposite.  I’ve never encountered as many annoying problems in any of my previous 14 trips.

I had problems at my Nairobi hotel, JKIA, Moi Airport – all just nuisances – but if things aren’t improved upon it will hurt tourism even further.  It seemed to me that the people working in the camps and lodges were the only ones doing their jobs correctly.  There is still a high level of accuracy in these places. 


Are these problems I encountered enough to make me stay away from AfricaAbsolutely not!  I’ll be there again late July/early August.  It is because I care so much for Kenya and her people that I hope these annoyances will be corrected and that people will again start going on safari in huge numbers.



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