Sorry this one is so late, dissertation time has been very busy at uni! Here’s the rest of my Kenya adventures….
Day 7: We went to Solio ranch, a private rhino ranch. A ‘muzungu’ (white man) spoke to us about running the ranch and the problem of rhino poaching. It was very interesting, but he had some rather strong views I will not discuss on an open forum. Rhino horn is now more expensive than gold! We discussed the pros and cons of a move to legalise trade. He noted a key concern of the ranch is that the government have recently changed the status of white rhino from private to public property- basically they are no longer able to sell them for economic profit. They now have to rely on profits from tourism alone, and this has lead to several small rhino sanctuaries closing in previous years. Solio almost has too many rhinos and so often moves residents to other sanctuaries. After dinner we had a discussion group where we constructed a SWOT analysis (commonly used in business studies, summarising strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats) of white rhino being under government ownership vs private.
Day 8: Visit to a farm in Ngushishi to learn about water resource management. The farmer had fully embraced the idea of product diversification, and had a dazzling array of water saving tricks in place. In particular he has a water storage unit, for which the local Water Resource Users Association (WRUA) supplies the free storage liner. This allows him to be competitive in the market as he has water for the drier season. After this we went to the river to talk about the piping. This upstream area has plenty of water from Mount Kenya, but if they used it all it would have disastrous effects for settlements downstream. Therefore the Ngushisi WRUA came to be; the farmers pay into the scheme, each village gets its fair share of water and they work together to settle any disagreements.
Day 9: Hike to Mount Kenya. As we walk we cross through various ecological zones until we reach the steep alpine zone. The endemic plant species here were fascinating; I particularly liked the succulents that reminded me of the Mediterranean! It was a challenging climb but we sung some tunes to keep up morale, and the view from the top was worth it.
In the evening we had a well deserved pub quiz all about Kenya…particularly entertaining was the lecturer’s tree hyrax impression….
Day 10: LONG ten hour drive to the Maasi Mara. Stopped off at our guide’s cousin’s restaurant for standard buffet style lunch of mystery meat and seven different types of carb. The last two hours of the drive were crazy off-roading and it was dusk when we finally reached the Mara. We were greeted by Maasai kindly watching the campfire for us…and keeping an eye out for hyena. After quickly setting up a wild ‘bush camp’ we headed out for a night drive where each bus had a torch to search for eye shine.
Day 11: Morning walk down to the river to look at hippos and contemplate what we had seen the day before. In this area you are not permitted to build a permanent structure, which results in corrugated iron galore. There was also a lot of rubbish and evidence that the land has been tilled unsustainably (apparently by a foreign investor). Even here in what feels like the remote corners of Kenya, and often supposedly protected areas, development is occuring. For the rest of the day we had a whistle stop tour through various Mara conservancies (they charge a lot to overstay your welcome).
We saw a LOT of elephants, and in the afternoon we had an amazing series of cats! Male lions, followed by females and their cubs and THEN a cheetah chasing a hare! It was utterly incredible and I can’t help but think we were very fortunate.
Day 12: Safari again, with highlights including a leopard in a tree, and a cheetah looking after her three cubs. Seeing the baby cheetah trying to lick its mother back was probably the cutest thing I have ever witnessed, pretty sure every female on my bus thought our ovaries were going to explode. Despite this we having a sneaking suspicion that we drove to close to cats yesterday, and that we may have been driving too fast.
In the afternoon we summed up the trip and some big questions:
Was the safari ok for animal welfare? Is tourism beneficial to Kenya and ultimately the conservation of its wildlife? Should we even bring the fieldtrip to Kenya rather than focussing on our UK wildlife?
Battling these debates out it seems clear to me that Kenya’s wildlife IS her main asset, which is a doubled-edged sword. Kenyans are optimistic for the country’s future development and are also driven to maintain their native wildlife. Let us hope the political situation will recognise this and manage development appropriately in the years to come.