Karibu! A familiar word heard daily as a greeting to welcome us to their motherland. We were there for a two-week field trip to gain more insight of conservation issues and ecotourism at Kenya. After hours of flight across the dessert, we landed at Nairobi, feeling excited, yet at the same time exhausted. Kenya is situated near to the Equator. The days remained hot but it was chilly at night.
Kenya is part of East Africa, surrounded by Tanzania, Uganda, Ethiopia and Somalia. Therefore, conservation and management of wildlife, especially the migrating species like wildebeest, involve the cooperation from all these bordering countries. The dry and wet seasons are unpredictable, thus the grass and other plants have evolved into extraordinarily resilient life forms to survive the extremes of these seasons. They lie dormant for months but when the first drops of rain hit the ground, they revive and come back to life. I will always remember the day our tents were flooded. With the gathering wind brushing against our faces, we witnessed darkening clouds, flashes of lightning, followed by ominous rolls of thunder and a heavy downpour. The savannah shines with freshness after the rainfall.
We started our journey from Nairobi town to Lake Navaisha at Fisherman’s Camp. The Rift Valley, a prominent feature in Kenya, starts at Lake Turkana in the north and crosses the center of the country to Lake Natron just across the southern border into Tanzania. Lake Navaisha and Lake Nakuru flow through the Rift Valley. The boat trip at Lake Navaisha was exciting as we spotted many bird species and hippos. Moreover, the lake has papyrus reeds that line its shores. We had a safari tour around Lake Nakuru, which is well-known as a feeding ground for millions of lesser and greater flamingos, aside from eagles, pelicans, marabou…etc. The view from a peak was breathtaking. Each time the bus driver increased the speed, we knew that we would be seeing one of the Big Five. Big Five refers to the five most difficult wildlife to hunt on foot – lion, leopard, rhinoceros, African elephant and cape buffalo. My heart beat faster when I saw a colony of vultures scavenging after a pride of lions left the prey. It was unbelievable how close the lionesses walked pass the bus!!! One of the most valuable insight during this safari tour was the talk by a lady from the Northern. She is a really true conservationist who puts the need of the local people into conservation strategies!
I could only say the first few days around Lake Navaisha and Lake Nakuru was just a small part of my whole wildlife watching experience in Kenya! The best was yet to come. Our next destination was Mount Kenya! I was excited but at the same time, feeling pretty anxious about climbing up Mount Kenya. Hiking is not my strength and I was afraid I could not make it to the top. The weather was freezing cold in the morning. Although I was half-awake sitting in the bus, I enjoyed watching sunrise. We started our journey up Mount Kenya early in the morning and I put on three jackets as it was really cold. It was really a long journey up, approximately 10km! I could barely enjoy the scenery as I had to put all my focus on walking up. It was really exhausting and my backpack got heavier when I had to take off my jackets layer by layer as it got warmer (or should I say hotter?) when the sun came out. I was so glad when we reached the first point – Met Point!!! The challenging part was walking down! It rained and my legs and feet started to hurt. I noticed blisters on my toes when I took my shoes off. I had to sleep after I got back as I was so tired! In the evening, we enjoyed the traditional performance by the locals.
The last few days were spent at Maasai Mara National Reserve, which in my opinion, was the highlight of the whole trip! The worst part was the toilet! I will always remember the first time we drove around the reserve! What we saw in one morning was more than what the last year students saw during the whole trip! In the beginning, it was excited to see Thomson’s gazelles, giraffes, warthogs, buffaloes, zebras…etc but as days passed by, these animals were commonly seen everywhere. However, the safari drive at Maasai Mara was the best! We saw herds of elephants, cerval cat, leopard, cheetah, rhinos, ostrich and many other bird species!
The visit to one of the Masai tribe’s village was memorable. I was surprised to see how their village look like. They stayed in mud house, without electricity! These mud houses were surrounded by thorny fence built up from Acacia thorns! We were greeted by the locals with traditional dance. The chief explained about the Masai culture, which is also a challenge to catch up with the modern and hi-tech world! Most of the children go to school nowadays but they still practice their traditional values, including polygamy! The whole experience was touching!
Time passed really fast. Before I went to Kenya, I felt like two weeks sound forever and I wonder if I can survive Kenya for that long period. When it was about time to leave, I wished to have more time in Kenya, although I did feel like it was time to go back. I missed and really needed proper shower!!! Not forgetting clean clothes! However, I know I would miss Kenya a lot, especially sunrise, sunset, the moon and stars, the people, the food and the WILDLIFE!
When I was at Kenya, I realised Kenya is a country rich in wildlife and natural resources. However, the locals do not really benefit from all these and majority are still living in poverty. To conserve the land and wild animals without neglecting the needs of the human population is indeed challenging. Human-wildlife conflict is a serious problem needs to be addressed. The people used to coexist with the wildlife with limited conflict. However, with increasing human population growth, livestock and wildlife aminals, there are less space and resources to cater the need of all! Moreover, most of the locals are living in poverty and definitely have a different perspectives on wildlife as the Westerners! Even so, I believe human and wildlife can coexist with careful planning and proper management.