Due to Kai's limited internet access in Africa, he has asked me to post the below blog.
Today has been without a doubt the most intense day that I’ve had in Kenya both experientially and emotionally. This morning began with a lecture in the Chumba, which ended early when we heard the ear piercing screeches of monkeys followed by similar screeches by local Maasai warrior herders. A young male lion had attempted to raid some local livestock, and the Maasai were chasing it away with their spears and voices. Our group of 20 piled into our 3 vehicles, popped the tops, and headed out of the compound to experience the action. The Maasai at the end of the road about 20 yards from our compound pointed us in the direction in which they had chased the lion, and we followed that way. Eventually we came to a small farm with a group of men surrounding the cornfield. They informed us that the lion had run inside of it and was hiding there. They were standing right outside of it throwing rocks into it to scare it out. We were shocked to see them so unaffected by what we considered great danger only feet away…there were even a couple children standing there! After a few minutes the lion darted out of the corn field and back towards the national park border, where it would be safe.
Thus we had our first good sighting of a lion today, and while it was short, the whole experience really highlighted the conflict between humans and wildlife that we are here to study. It is the lion’s natural behavior to seek out prey which provides the most energy to it for the least energy expended, and that type of animal is that which isn’t adapted to escape it, that type being livestock. The local Maasai people, who have moved from a pastoralist lifestyle to a sedentary one depending largely on livestock, are visibly sick of the lion and other wildlife threatening their livelihood. It is sad to see this, after the two lived in harmony for centuries before the effects of human development changed the dynamics of the interactions between the two.
The rest of our day was spent in the Nairobi National Park on a game drive. We conducted observations on the behaviors and social patterns of every large mammal encountered (an African large mammal is classified as anything larger than the Dik-Dik, which is about the size of a house cat) in the park for about four hours. We saw many species that we had already encountered in the dispersal area, but did get our first sighting of a black rhino, which for me was breathtaking to see in the wild. The game drive also made apparent the reality how much human settlement has encroached right onto the edge of the park. Even driving around the park, which is home to thousands of mammals, one could easily see the outskirts of the city of Nairobi, and it is making me seriously question how realistic the park’s survival really is. Hopefully that can be changed through successful policy changes and research.
While most of the day was what I would deem incredible experientially, our return to the camp quickly became chaotic and honestly quite disconcerting. As soon as I entered my “Banda” I noticed something was amiss. I couldn’t find my IPod. For any American college the IPod is almost as important as air. I, being a generally careless person, figured I left it out somewhere, but was confused because my headphones were where I thought they had been, but not the IPod itself. In short time, my “Bandamate” came back and immediately remarked that his things had been rummaged through when he entered his room. I then looked in my wallet that I had left out, and found that the majority of my money was missing. I ran to find the other students and our student affairs manager to sound the alarm. After everyone looked through their things, we found that four students had been robbed while we had been in the national park. In total, I lost about one hundred American dollars, five thousand Kenyan shillings (about $70) and my ITouch. Others had similar things stolen. Now, had they just stolen my money I would have brushed it off, but they took my music for the next three weeks, and I live for my music. It is also disconcerting to think that someone was able to pass through the security of the guards (who have worked at the camp for over 10 years and even after a week I can say I trust with my life) and the electric fence and get to the place where I sleep. The faculty and staff have vowed to do everything they can to find out what happened, and they have put Maasai Askari (guards) outside our Bandas, but the fact that this break-in was able to happen reminds me that in an African country with only relative stability, I need to constantly be conscious of my safety. I hope that the issue is resolved in the best possible way, but even if the culprit isn’t caught, I believe that the faculty and staff will do everything in their power to keep us safe. And after all it’s only some money and a material possession. Tomorrow we will be visiting an elephant orphanage, and I hope that along the way I’ll get a chance to find some internet access so I can finally post what has been going on here in Kenya!