Wednesday, 25 August 2010
Samburu Elephants, Dr. Hamilton and 327
Samburu Worrior Dance
Oria & Samburu worriors
Impalas Locking horns
Li with Iain
Li with Iain
Li with David and Sam
Marshall Eagle with its Dik Dik kill
Samburu Woman Milking Goat
Wilderbeest Crossing Mara River
Flying in Helicopter Over Masai Mara
Aug 13, 2010
It is now the wilderbeest migration season. Millions of them cross the Mara river between Serengeti and Masai Mara and it is a great spectacle. Despite my keen interests to see this, I was always reluctant to go to the Mara as it gets crowded with so many tourists. But on this occasion of filming the elephant story, I decided to also film the migration as background to the story. So on Aug 13th, we got on a helicopter heading to Masai Mara.
Our helicopter pilot Phil Mathews had a gun shot on his right arm and his tibia was broken and now held together by some mechanism for bone regeneration. He was having family lunch on Easter Sunday this year, when five armed gunmen broken in his house. He and his son defended his family and Phil was shot. Sadly no criminals were caught.
On the one and half hour flight to Masai Mara from Nairobi we passed the Great Rift Valley. Despite the number of masai settlements dotted along the way, there is still large empty space left. This looked quite different as I recall seeing a lot of people on my way along the Great Rift Valley to a wildlife reserve when I came to Kenya in 1998.
The migration lasts from about July to October every year. It was now in full swing and many wilderbeest have crossed the Mara river from the serengeti to the Mara side by now. I had seen many blue widerbeests in my life, in fact we have quite a lot of them at Laohu Valley, but nowhere in the world could one see as high a concentration of them as here. Sam who manned our main camera was non-stop filming. However the most exciting part got to be the wilderbeest crossing of the Mara river.
Phil did not promise me much and I now understood why. Often the wilderbeest would stand by the river and refuse to take the plunge. But guess it was my lucky day despite being unlucky with the cold weather in Nairobi, since we did chance upon a wildferbeest crossing! It was breathtaking, as hundreds if not thousands of them dropped into the river to make it across to the other side for greener pastures.
A good day ended with bad news though. A little after 6pm, I got a phone call from Vivienne from South Africa, informing me that 327 is not eating or drinking. Our usual big cat vet - Joseph from Kimberly could not be reached so vet Gavin who is an hour away and who specializes in horse rushed over. 327 was in really poor condition. Why on earth such difficult situations occur always on a Friday (as with Hope's sudden deterioration of conditions before he died) is incomprehensible to me. I discussed Gavin's suggestions of sending 327 to Pretoria's state clinic for thorough examination with Petri. It would be a very complicated operation, as 327 would have to be anaesthetised and then put on a drip for the 6/7 hour trip, if no plane can be found (won't be a surprise give such short notice). We decided that the best option is try to reach Vet Joseph.
It was with such uncertainty and worries that I retired to bed..
Aug 15, 2010
I had little sleep the night before, communicating with petri and team on the best option for 327. Our team was on night watch and the situation appeared to be stable.
It took about 7 hours to reach Samburu, passing green pastures and busy townships equally, as well as the equator. Along the way I was on phone with Petri and team in South Africa to keep on top of status report regarding 327. Vet Joseph managed to arrive yesterday afternoon and took blood sample etc..I was anxious about the results, but fortunately I had to concentrate on the trip, and the amazing game of Samburu took my mind off 327's worries in between.
Samburu National Park is in the middle of the area Samburu people live. They are related to the Masai people and are semi nomadic. Samburu Park has some special game such as the Geremuk, Grant's Gazelle etc. Upon entering the reserve, we immediately saw many Kirk's Dik-dik, and the funny looking long-necked Gerenuk that eat tree leaves like the giraffe. We also had a glimpse of the beautiful Beisa Oryx.
Results came from Vet Joseph late morning today. It was not good news. 327 got chronicle kidney problems and if not treated, his life span won't be long. The vet did not recommend to send 327 to anywhere due to the anticipated danger stress could cause from the transfer and an unknown environment. Fortunately 327 reacted well to anaesthetics (but Joseph is also such a good and cautious vet too!) so he proposed to come back and give 327 drips on a schedule. It is a long trip from Kimberly for Joseph but that is the safest option for 327 really.
We have to do everything we can to prolong his life, though I fear it may not be too long due to the fact that his twin brother didn't even survive to 1 year. Further, my cat Didi also died from inherited kidney problems, despite careful treatment and monitoring for several years.
The rest of the day was so interesting. We met with Oria Douglas-Hamilton and heard her family's remarkable adventure from France/Italy to the depth of africa in 1929, finishing up settling in Kenya..She built her famous luxury Elephant Watch Camp which was flooded badly in March this year, but resurrected in June -they had collected all the household stuff flushed away by the flood from all over the reserve , cleaned them up and re-decorated the lodge in record time.
We met her Samburu warriors working at her lodge- Bernard the head ranger was a delight..After high school, he went to study wildlife management and guiding and he told us many things about the Samburu people. It was interesting that his parents, being Samburu herders, sent all their six children to school. That is pretty far-sighted given that many tribal people are still illiterate despite the government's free education program.
The afternoon trip to a Samburu village was the highlight of the day. Despite being offered to be carried across the Ewaso Nyiro river by a worrior, I opted to walk across myself. But my "heroism" ended up with me looking like wet ducks, since the river level reached up my rolled up jeans. We met the delightful Samburu who showed his prized possessions of goats proudly and had his young wife demonstrate how to squeeze goat milk.
The day ended with the Samburu warriors doing a magical warrior dance by the bonfire!
Aug 18, 2010
We went out with research assistant Chris Leadismo during his monitoring in the afternoon of 16th. We saw several groups of elephants -including those we had seen in the BBC documentary, such as the American Indians and the Royals (all named by Iain's team). It is nice to see familiar "faces".
We were quite lucky to see a bull elephant mating a 9 year old female in the Royal group. I suspected that this would be counted as rape, as a 9 year old is not yet mature. I will be certainly asking Dr. Douglas-Hamilton about it. The mother of the 9 year-old female had been quite agitated knowing the bulls' intention and tried to lead her family away. But the Bull caught up and managed to mount her, even though the two sisters of the 9-year old tried to protect their little sister.
On the way back was an unexpected sighting of a leopard, lying languidly on top of a big rock at the foot of a hill just after the sun had set!
But the highlight of the day was news from Petri, that 327 ate much of springbuck!! This was such good news as 327 could regain the weight he lost and build up his body again.
We spent yesterday and today with Dr. Hamilton's Researcher David and Dr. Hamilton himself. Iain and his wife Oria had a fascinating life. He is a wildlife scientist from an old noble Scottish family. Oria was born in Kenya of a French artist mother and Italian military officer. Iain has been conducting research to save the African elephant for 48 years. Oria and Iain's team have done such amazing work that I so hope I can bring it to the Chinese audience through the tv program we have been filming for.
Meanwhile, Vet Joseph has been back to Laohu a couple of more times to treat 327 who showed remarkable rebound through food intake. Coupled with continuous vet care for the foreseeable future, we do have to feed him everyday now so he can take medicine, instead of every few days as in the wild conditions. But we are read to do anything to help 327.
We saw so much wildlife, many of them for the first time, as many game are different from South Africa. We got so much amazing footage of wildlife as well, some very rare to see. Dr. Douglas-Hamilton and his team were able to take us right inside the elephant family groups that we were able to see the interactions of the family members. This is one of the most interesting trips I did and I know I am coming back here again.
Aug 21, 2010
Sam drove us back to Nairobi safely despite the poor condition of the road and sometimes very dangerous traffic. We bid good bye to Iain, Oria and their very helpful staff and looked forward to seeing them again soon, in China.
(Photos to follow in early September)