Where: Nairobi National Park, Kenya
When: March 26, 2018
Today, I went on my first safari in Kenya and my second this month. Giving me company for the day were siblings Michelle and Brian (with whose family I am staying in Kenya) and sisters Merlene, Myra and Melissa (whose acquaintance I had made in New Delhi back in 2010). Despite the touristiness of safaris in general, I have to admit that this second trip was as unexpectedly fantastic as the first. Perhaps more so because at Tanzania’s Mikumi National Park, which has a handsomely sized population of a multitude of animals including four of the Big Five (the lion, the elephant, the rhinoceros, the Cape buffalo), I did not have the opportunity to see the king of the jungle. We were told that this was probably because lions tend to sleep during the day.
However, at Nairobi, we chanced upon a whole pride with three females and one male. Our tour guide drove us quite close to the pride as the patriarch began feasting on the carcass of a buffalo that the females had hunted but were not allowed to touch before he was thoroughly done. For perspective, our tour van was close enough for any of them to land atop it in a single swift pounce. The accompanying photograph should give you a rough idea. As we admired the prevalence of patriarchy even in the wild, our tour guide broadcasted the location of the pride on his walkie-talkie and pretty soon, our route was blocked on either side by many more vans similar to ours, filled with awestruck tourists similar to me.
As the tour progressed, we also saw a significant number of elephants, giraffes, antelopes, zebras, ostriches, rhinoceroses and buffalos. Having seen all of the same in Tanzania as well, I was a little less impressed by these wonders of nature this time round. Since we are on the subject of wild animals, here is an interesting and easily Google-able bit of trivia about elephants, zebras, antelopes and ostriches: All the males in these species tend to hang out in all-boys groups called Bachelor herds until they are of age to go and head an all-female group called Harem. While the strong and virile enough alpha males get a lifelong supply of unconditional love from all members of their harem, the betas are often ostracised and forced to spend their lives as lone rangers or as a carnivore’s dinner. Rough.
For anyone still reading, I do want to touch upon a matter of considerable importance regarding this national park. Nairobi National Park is spread over an area of 117 square kilometres, which is not a lot if you consider the fact that this is a wildlife reserve. For instance, you can very clearly see the skyline of Nairobi’s business district even after travelling several kilometres into the heart of the park.
This is problematic especially in light of the recent expansion of commercial and housing infrastructure in around the park. Its boundaries are being encroached in order to accommodate bypass roads and railway lines, in an attempt to further modernise Nairobi. However, if expansion continues at this rate, the park, which at present allows for the annual migration of animals, will be reduced into a cordoned off island not unlike a zoo. Wildlife conservation activists like Paula Kahumbu, who is the head of Wildlife Direct campaign group, have been campaigning to bring attention to the pressure this encroachment puts on the wildlife inside the park for several years. However, she points out that there is a collective lack of concern for the environment among the public, in turn leading to the marginalisation and isolation of conservation efforts by groups like Wildlife Direct. This is partly understandable because as a rapidly developing nation, Kenya’s focus is on building its economy and ensuring the availability of adequate connectivity and infrastructure for the same. But does this development have to come at the cost of the loss of Kenya’s wildlife heritage? I do not have the answer to that question but I hope that those accountable for planning and building Kenya’s future do.
P.S: For those unfamiliar with David Foster Wallace, the title of this post is a cheeky reference to two of his writings “A Supposedly Fun Thing That I’ll Never Do Again” and “Westward the Course of Empire Takes Its Way”