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Friday, April 6, 2012

a couple of posts from Ol Pejeta!

What an amazing last few days! I was able to check two items off my Africa checking – listening to “Africa” by Toto in the middle of an African rainstorm, and watching a wild lion while listening to music from Lion King. Two for two! We’re at Ol Pejeta at the moment, a 90,000 acre conservancy outside Nanyuki, Kenya. This place is incredible – we’ve been here two days so far, and already I’ve seen a million Plains zebra, impala, Grant’s gazelles, warthogs and Thompson’s gazelles. I’ve also seen waterbuck, Jackson’s hartebeest, Anubis baboons, eland, oryx, savannah buffalo, white rhinos, black rhinos, silver-backed jackals, 7 lionesses and a cheetah! In two days! Mind blowing.

The lions today were the coolest thing I’ve ever seen. In the morning, Dan found a fresh lion kill – the skeleton of an old female zebra with wet blood on it and fresh lion poop nearby. That in and of itself was pretty amazing. It was neat to see how thoroughly cleaned the bones were in such a short time. Before the blood had had a chance to dry, the lions, jackals and tawny eagles had made short work of everything that wasn’t straight bone. Then this afternoon, I was driving through a local depression with the three students in my group and there were the two lionesses sitting RIGHT NEXT TO THE ROAD. Like literally 3 meters from our car. They were obviously stuffed to the gills – bellies hanging down almost to the ground – and seemed content to just lie under their tree while we took a thousand pictures of them from our minibus. It was incredible to be so close to such a huge, powerful predator. After about 30 minutes of watching them, one of the females stood up, stretched and mosied across the road directly in front of our car. A little while later, the other female stood up and followed her friend to a new resting spot under a fever tree. We continued watching them, and were able to see some incredible. The lionesses stood up and started stalking a warthog!! They were very full, obviously, but they still gave that warthog a bit of a chase! It was amazing to see and we got some incredible pictures.

The course is going well, although I’ve been overwhelmed with how much is going on! We are going all day long and well into the night – field work, lectures, presentations, communal meals, discussion sections…. The fun never stops! It’s been a really great experience to get to work so closely with the students and to share my love and excitement for Africa with them! Much more fun than being the teaching assistant for a standard classroom-based class.

Another day on Ol Pej, another set of animal sightings. Today was exciting for my group. After several days of finding out too late about awesome animal encounters (an oryx chasing a cheetah, a jackal eating at a lion kill, a black rhino interacting with an elephant herd, hyena pups playing, etc etc), we finally had some excitement of our own. We left the research center before the other groups this morning, in the hopes of getting some data before the day heated up. On our way out to look for Thompson’s gazelles and Plains zebra, I spotted a little face by the side of the road – a bat-eared fox!! We stopped to take photos of it, and lo and behold, two MORE bat-ear foxes popped up behind it! They all wrestled together for a minute or two before moving back into the grass away from the road. Very exciting though! Later in the morning, we spotted an ostrich running along with a herd of zebra! This evening we saw 6 more ostriches (5 females and a male) eating, running and fighting. Soooo cool. We also saw a pair of striped hyenas! What a coup for my car of students. And those were just the rare and unusual sightings – we also had close encounters with elephants, giraffes, gazelles and zebra – just another day at Ol Pej. :)

Things are going well and time is flying by. It’s hard to believe that a week from now, the students will be taking their final exam and a week from tomorrow I’ll be flying back to Ethiopia! We are just finishing up our second set of projects – data collection is done and the students are analyzing their data tonight and tomorrow and presenting it to the class and the Ol Pejeta management on Thursday. They’ve also been giving nightly presentations about African mammals around the campfire each night. That’s been particularly fun. The students got to choose their species, so many people have presented on animals they are particularly fascinated by. Although I’ve been living in Africa since last summer, the fauna in my area is pretty limited – it’s really fun to learn more about warthogs, giraffes, buffalo and the other other animals we see out here every day.

Just made it back to Mpala and am getting settled back into my room here. Ol Pej was great! The student presentations were really interesting and we had a nice souvenir shopping stop in Nanyuki on our way home. Now back to the grindstone for a few more days!