Monday, July 14, 2014

Expedition into Ol Pejeta

A Lion lazing in the sun as the heat builds 
 I've been within the Ol Pejeta conservancy over the last couple of days with the Canadian and American team with a packed itinerary. We got prepared packing up the gear and loading the Land Cruiser the classic green go anywhere safari vehicle. We loaded up with tents, cooking gear and food aiming for a wild camp on the banks of the  Ewaso Nyiro river.
Camping on the banks of the river there are Elephants further down the bank on the bend
 The team where also due to carry out a bike safari so the logical thing was to leave our camp on bikes heading round the perimeter fence through the community land to the main Rongai gate to the Ol Pejeta conservancy. In through the gate and off round the bike loop, the previous days rain made for a few boggy sections but out on the open plains its was no problem. This loop passed a variety of animals Buffalo, Rhino, Warthogs and lots of Zebra and Impala bringing us round to Morrani’s cafe. We left the bikes and headed through the conservancy to the research base to check in and have a talk with Joshua about the overall picture and approach Ol Pejeta takes on conservation and its ethos.
Buffalo on Zebra plains 
 We wound down after that through the Acacia tree’s to the campsite to set up on the Ewaso Nyrio river bank at Owesso camp. A stunning spot and pretty much the African impression. As we arrived a herd of Elephants arrived to eat the succulents that run along the edge of the river. With camp set we had time for a game drive taking a drive through we saw numerous animals before returning to cook. Spag bowl prepared and while eating a cracking noise in the dark and large splash almost had me throw my dinner all over me. Just on the opposite bank to the tent was an obvious Hippo run into the river, it had slithered into the water and then silently swam right by us and off down the river. Hippos will use the water ways as there way to get from a to b due to the amount of predators out at night and can move from grazing grounds without being detected. I had quietly had a walk down the river bank to look for obvious runs but our side was a steep bank. Hippo’s can be very dangerous but its more a question of what your actions are to get them nervous, getting between them and the water, or between them and there young will cause, the main reason they are considered dangerous is because if they attack its almost a certainty they will kill. It is rare for these animals to suddenly kill though there needs to be a reason for them to attack and its usually through ignorance or a bad decision on the part of the human which results in an incident. 
Crossing the Ewaso Nyrio river en route to the camp 
An extremely early start at around five am to start the conservation in action day around the conservancy. Although bleary eyed and a little hungry due to a baboon incident the previous afternoon which involved some breakfast items migrating the morning was to have quite a kick start in store which would soon have us wide awake. I drove up to the research station to collect Jimmy who was joining us for the day with the plan of heading direct to the Chimp sanctuary but as we drove closer to the sanctuary Jimmy mentioned that there was a pride of Lions not far from there spotted by a colleague, we quickly headed to the area and soon found a pride 14 strong by the road. A spectacular sight furious snapping of pictures and then the action began with ring side seats. It had become obvious the older Lions had seen something in the bush across the road. The main Lion suddenly got up from sitting and with a low haunched back started to creep towards the track in front of the truck and with perfect precision two other older Lions got up and rushed along the side of the truck and darted into the bush disappearing. The main Lion now in front of the truck moved into the grassy area below us. I couldn't see what they where looking for and then bang the two flanking Lions launched out the bush with a warthog just ahead of them squealing and sprinting its way into the path of the main Lion who exploded into action and within seconds paws where on it then jaws and after some fairly shrill noises from the doomed Pumba silence fell. A perfect ambush. All so coordinated a rehearsed. Then the pride where on it and it was a the scene we have all seen on the Beeb of bloody heads coming up from a mass of Lions feeding on a kill. And that was that breakfast efficiently served at 7am! 
Going in for the kill 

The large pride all looking at breakfast

Poko one of the rescue chimps
Off we went now sufficiently awake to the Chimps sanctuary. This lies as a small reserve within the conservancies 90’000 acres. A sanctuary for chimps who have been rescued from throughout the region. Often neglected and abused which adds to their rather shocking aggression towards humans and each other, in fact almost as soon as I arrived I got the camera out to take a shot of a friendlier looking one who rolled his mouth in way that made me think ‘surely he’s not’, and he did and spat a massive blob at me thankfully missing my face but hitting my shoulder. As we gazed around the two caged areas they where in before they where let out it was a fairly eye opening scene. The noise they made and aggression they showed alarmed me. I have never seen banging and screaming like that from animals also ones you see your own species characteristics in so noticeably. Their aggression though is not without reason. If we take Poko who was used for amusement in a petrol station in Bujambure, Barundi as an example. For nine years he was hung in a cage above a petrol forecourt to attract custom. The cage was so small he could only stand and as a result walks bolt upright as it affected his back. It was common practice as described in Tim Butchers book Blood river that in the Congo it was good luck to have a Chimp in a cage hanging from a shop. A pretty sad story for these Chimps but good to see the great work being done by the conservancy to make them a good home. 
From here we had a long game drive making our way to the western side of the conservancy at Namok where the cattle ranch lies. We pretty much saw everything on that drive round, Lions lazing in the sun, Hyena, Elephant, Giraffe, Jackals and Rhino. 
We met Giles at the live stock office who ran through the balance of Ol Pejetas wildlife ethos. Essentially it boils downy to creating a balance between having a working cattle ranch and wild animals often associated with eating the cattle such as Lions. The Ol Pejeta beef is well known and sold all over. There conservation ethos is cutting edge and should be taken on by the national parks under the Kenya Wildlife service. Introducing things like steel fenced but moveable ‘boma’s’ to protect the cattle through the night from Lion attack. Moving those boma’s on a regular basis leaves the area naturally fertilised and the ground broken up so that better grasses can grow through in the rains leading to better grazing grass for the wild animals. By having a strong head of cattle and strong wild animal population they are able to protect the park for hard times, for example we have troubles with security in the country but if the tourists stop coming the park can lean on the cattle more for income through the hard times. We had a look at a tick spray station and also a Boma while heading back to see Baraka. 
Baraka is a Southern Black Rhino but blind and seems very comfortable around people as you can get up close to him. The park has four Northern White Rhino’s of which there are only seven left on the planet sadly for them they don’t have long left before they are all gone. 
One of the large herds of cattle on the conservancy 

Giles explaining the livestock management program 
 After that we where pretty bushed and headed back to strike camp and head back round to our permanent camp. A great experience for all and plenty learned about managing a conservation area. Sadly humans over the years have destroyed the habitats of these animals, hunted them into extinction, put them into Space or tea bag adverts so these conservation areas are vital if we are to keep these animals for future generations to see them in real life. Although I have scepticism about charity in Africa I think if directed towards wild life programs or anti poaching missions I think its a very good thing, so long as that is where it ends up.