Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Some Game Drive Memories

As a child our visits to national parks and other wildlife areas where always a highlight. Perhaps, in my case, so much so that it became a career for me.

I have visited many, many great African Wildlife areas, including the famous Masai Mara Game Reserve, Samburu, Buffalo (which is basically the same place as Samburu, just other side of the river,) Meru, Marsabit to mention some in Kenya. In South Africa I visited Kruger when I was a small child, but haven't been back yet. I certainly plan to go some time, and need to for birding. I worked at Addo as a student. Since then I have been to virtually all the parks in Namibia and a few in Botswana, as well as many other wildlife areas.

Marsabit was always interesting. I don't know what it's like now. The park is on the Marsabit Mountain and surrounds the craters on the mountain. We usually went there because my parents were visiting Marsabit for business.

My memory of Marsabit that sticks out was the thickness. It was wild. You drive through these forests and the trees are lined up on both sides of you. You don't see much (I would actually love to go see the birds, but I can't remember the birds when I was there as a child.)

The forest is all closed on both sides. Then, every once in a while, something bashes out of the bush, dashes over the road, and back into the bush on the other side. No time for pics or fancy id's. You just marvel at the wildness. It's this amazing sense of 'What's going to happen next.'

The most amazing thing are the elephants. As think as that bush is, there are numerous elephants (or were, I don't know how much the areas poaching has now decimated the populations.) The whole area around Marsabit is desert, and so when it's dry, they are all up on these mountains.

So you can picture it. You creep along these insanely bad roads, thick jungle on each side, little dickers and things popping out and dashing off, and then, just meters from you, a huge elephant pops out, swings it's head at you because it also didn't know you were there, and then with a couple steps it's off. And leaves you with the combination of adrenaline and admiration. Made a big impression on me as a kid.

Then there was Tsavo. Tsavo is split, east and west, and the eastern side was often closed due to poaching and bandit problems in the 80's. So I only know the west.

As a kid we once did a drive while staying outside of the park. At the time I was seventeen or something and growing up in the bush, I had been driving for a long time. My sister had got tired of the game drives and so my dad and sister had stayed at one of the lodges. I was driving and we went down to this river valley. We started to see elephants as we drove down towards the river on the one side. As we drove out the other side, we could now see that we were in the midst of thousands of elephants.

My mom suddenly didn't trust my driving any more (I was still unlicensed) and got out of the midst of the elephants as fast as she could. Her fears were perhaps not unfounded. I believe now, after reading books like those by Ian Douglas Hamilton, that these elephants were gathering in these big groups because of the effects of poaching in Kenya in those days. That time saw massive poaching in Kenya and Tsavo was one of the worst hit.

We got up to a view of the area and did manage to count a little. There were really thousands of elephants all together. Many of my friends in the wildlife field don't believe it, but it was true...just a product of the times in Kenya.

From elephants to lions. I already knew in high school that I was going to become a tour guide and did some trips organized through our school. One of these was a overland tour with Gametrackers. We went to several places, including the Masai Mara. Now, I didn't always like the Mara back then, with the lack of control. But on this occasion I saw it from a tourists side. We had over thirty lion sightings in that time. Simply because our guide was always getting info from his thousand and one other buddies.

We were all living in Africa and we struggled to convince our guide that we would like to just drive around and look at whatever we saw. He was a bit over determined to show us lions. But it was still amazing. Often a visit to a National Park, one lion sighting a day is good going. Private reserves are a little different, but that's why you pay for what you get.

Probably my favorite Nairobi National Park. I spent a lot of time there, especially just before I finished High School. When my parents had to be in Nairobi, I would take the Land Rover and head off by myself while they sat in meetings or conferences. No particular memories stick out, but it was so cool that you could get out of Nairobi, this mad city, and this beautiful game park right there!

If you want to read Ian Douglas Hamilton's book, you'll find it on Amazon:
BATTLE FOR THE ELEPHANTS. I started an interest in Africa Elephants with his books and even managed to read a lot of his doctorate at some stage. From his work, there were many other great books on elephants.

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