I go back and forth when trying to decide to whether to bring something other than my iPhone to Africa. Took a free class offered at Samy’s Camera to help me get familiar with some of the menus. I’m still undecided.
The Nile crocodile is the most common type of crocodile in Kenya. It is one of the largest reptiles in the world, growing up to 5 metres and weighing 900 pounds on average. This aggressive, vicious reptile is one of the most dangerous species of crocodile and has been the cause of numerous human deaths every year.
Nile crocodiles are relatively social crocodiles. They share basking spots and large food sources, such as schools of fish and big carcasses.
Their strict hierarchy is determined by size. Large, old males are at the top of this hierarchy and have primary access to food and the best basking spots.
Nile crocodiles are apex predators: predators at the top of afood chain, without natural predators themselves. They are ambush predators that can wait for hours, days, and even weeks for the suitable moment to attack.
Crocodiles are capable of taking almost any animal within their range. Their diet consists mostly of different species of fish, reptiles, birds and mammals.
From the 1940s to the 1960s, the Nile crocodile was hunted, primarily for high-quality leather, though also for meat and purported curative properties. The population was severely depleted, and the species faced extinction. But, they’re baaaaaaaack. The Nile Crocodile is listed as “least concern” under the IUCN Red List,
The following is taken from Lion Dog African Safaris Weekly Newsletter, #18 / 2020.
Archaeology Shows How Ancient African Societies Managed Pandemics
Every so often, a pandemic emerges that dramatically alters human society.
The Black Death (1347 – 1351) was one. The Spanish flu of 1918 was another. Now there’s COVID-19.
Archaeologists have long studied diseases in past populations. To do so, they study settlement layout, burials, funerary remains, and human skeletons. The insights from these studies expose some of the strategies that societies adopted to deal with pandemics. These included burning settlements as a disinfectant and shifting settlements to new locations. Social distancing was practised by dispersing settlements.
Findings unearthed in southern Zimbabwe show that it was taboo to touch or interfere with remains of the dead, lest diseases be transmitted in this way. Social distancing and isolation formed a critical part of managing pandemics in ancient African societies. In what is Zimbabwe today, the Shona people in the 17th and 18th centuries isolated those suffering from infectious diseases – such as leprosy – in temporary residential structures. In some cases, corpses were burnt to avoid spreading the contagion.
There were multiple long-term implications of pandemics in these communities. Perhaps the most important was that people organised themselves in ways that made it easier to live with diseases, managing them and at the same time sticking to the basics such as good hygiene, sanitation and environmental control. Life did not stop because of pandemics: populations made decisions and choices to live with them.
Some of these lessons may be applied to COVID-19, guiding decisions and choices to buffer the vulnerable from the pandemic while allowing economic activity and other aspects of life to continue. As evidence from the past shows, social behaviour is the first line of defence against pandemics: it’s essential this be considered when planning for the latest post-pandemic future.
Torrential rains have triggered devastating floods and landslides across East Africa in recent weeks, aggravating an already challenging situation as countries in the region battle the coronavirus pandemic.
Floods and landslides in Kenya have killed nearly 200 people, displaced 100,000 and strained critical infrastructure, after the River Nzola burst its banks.
Although May usually marks the end of the rainy season, the Kenya Meteorological Department has forecast that heavy rains, which accelerated in mid-April, are expected to continue in the coming weeks.
In western Kenya, residents have had to carry their belongings away from their submerged houses using boats and motorbikes. The government is providing food and water to the displaced people and has also requested the Ministry of Health to provide them with masks as a precautionary measure.
Floods have destroyed 8,000 acres of rice fields. Kenya was already facing a looming rice shortage due to shipping disruptions caused by the coronavirus outbreak.
The heavy rains and landslides are threatening water shortages as well. The infrastructure used to deliver water has been washed away and pipelines have been clogged. Residents of several cities, including in the capital Nairobi, are being asked to use their water in a “rational” manner.
The Masai Ostrich, also known as the Pink-Necked Ostrich or the East African Ostrich, is one of the 4 species of ostriches. It’s found in Kenya, Tanzania, Ethiopia and Somalia. It is one of the largest birds in the world, second only to the Northern-African Ostrich. It has loose, soft, smooth feathers, which are black with white on the male, and grey brown with white on females.
The Masai Ostrich has a pink neck and thighs, that become brighter in males during the mating season.
It’s a flightless bird, as its wings are too small to lift its heavy body into the air. But it’s fast, reaching speeds up to 45 miles an hour.
Like other ostrich species, the top hen lays her eggs first, then other females put their eggs in her nest. After that, she discards the extra eggs from the nest and gives hers the priority. In most cases the nest doesn’t contain more than 20 eggs although every hen can lay 7 – 10 eggs.
The male Masai ostrich usually incubates eggs during the night shift and the female does the incubation during the day shift.
Masai ostriches are almost entirely herbivorous. Their diet consists mainly of grasses, bushes, herbs, succulents, and leaves. Occasionally they will consume flowers, fruits, seeds and small lizards.
Today the Masai Ostrich is hunted and farmed for eggs, meat, and feathers. Interestingly, a 2009 study found that illegal hunting of ostrich meat did not significantly affect the Masai Ostrich population density within the Serengeti National Park.
The Masai Ostrich is listed as a species of “least concern” under the IUCN Red List, although the wild ostrich populations are acknowledged to be in decline.
* Why feature the Masai Ostrich?
A couple of posts this week centered on Maasi handiwork, so I picked a bird with the word “Masai” in its name. Simple as that.
Linda and I are scheduled to take three morning and three evening safari rides in the area around Laikipia Wilderness Camp. In the last 18 months, special cameras have managed to photograph the elusive African black leopard in the area. Perviously believed to be completely absent in Kenya, a team of biologists have managed to shot rare footage of the sleek big cat after spending months watching and waiting.
About 11 percent of leopards globally are black. These beautiful leopards, with their sleek black coats, are more commonly found in tropical and humid Southeast Asia. Black panthers in Africa are extremely rare. We now know that melanism, the cause of the leopard’s dark coloring, can also be found in leopards who live in semiarid climates, like that of Laikipia.
Despite being called black leopards, they are usually very dark brown and have the same pattern of spots as other leopards.
The total extent to which the leopard population has declined is unknown. Three subspecies of the leopard are classified as “critically endangered,” and two others as “endangered.”
When one thinks of Maasai decorative beading, it’s probably safe to assume that colorful jewelry is the first thing that comes to mind. Alas, jewelry is not my thing. I’m more inclined to find a souvenir or two where the famous Maasai beading is meant to decorate an item rather than decorate me. Here are examples of just such decorated items.
Although chokers and string bead necklaces are common in Kenya markets, the truly classic Maasai necklace is the very elaborate wedding necklace.
The beautiful wedding necklace shown here is offered at The Maasai Shop on Etsy as of the date of this posting.
A beaded necklace, even a more conservative one, is nothing I’d ever wear. But there is no denying, it’s a work of art. The moment I saw this framed necklace, I reconsidered my souvenir list. Maybe I’ll be tempted when I visit the open markets in Nairobi.
The Maasai people have been using beadwork to tell the story of their collective history and culture as well as their individual social positions in their day lives. The wearer might use it to represent wealth, beauty, strength, warriorhood, marital status, children-born and/or social status. Beaded jewelry is used as everyday adornment on both men and women.
The jewelry pieces are made up of the traditional Maasai colors: red, orange, yellow, green, blue, white and black. Each color is symbolic of important cultural elements.
Blue represents the sky and the nourishing waters of the sea, lakes and rivers. White represents purity and peace. Black represents the people and the hardships they must endure. Orange represents warmth, generosity, and frendship, as it is the color of the gourds in which milk is offered to guests. Green represents the land, production and health. Red represent bravery, unity and the blood lost in pursuit of freedom. Yellow also represents sun, fertility, growth and hospitality because it is the color of the animal skins on guests’ beds.
In recognition of Mother’s Day, National Geographic posted twenty-one photos of Beautiful Moments Between Animal Mothers and Their Babies in their Photo Gallery. Included with each photo was a short explanation of some of the more unique and varying mothering methods found in the animal kingdom.
“Every animal can thank a mom for making life possible,” writes the author. “Some mothers lay eggs, in treetops or on the seafloor, while others labor through long pregnancies and live births. Many moms are on their own, but a fortunate few get help from babysitters or nursemaids. Mother-child bonding runs the gamut of relationship styles.”
Among the twenty-one animals featured in the photo gallery, five live on African soil.
And despite the heart-warming topic, not all the photos conjure up warm and cuddly thoughts.
Emperor scorpion mothers give birth to an average of nine to 32 fully formed young. Here, an emperor scorpion, one of the world’s largest scorpions, carries her immature offspring on her back.
Lion moms may live with their daughters for life. The African lions live in prides dominated by related females, like this cub-wrangling mom in Serengeti National Park, Tanzania.
During the early weeks of her cubs’ lives, the mother must move them every few days to avoid predators. If all goes well, cheetah siblings stay with their mom for about a year and a half, learning to hunt. Some cheetahs are supermoms, not only raising their own young but fostering the cubs of others.
Hippo calves are often born underwater. It’s up to Mom to push her calf to the surface to take its first breath.
Mothers are fiercely protective of their young, but they also have a softer side, cleaning and doting on their calves. If its baby dies, mothers even display what some scientists interpret as grief.
Giraffe calves stand within 30 minutes of birth. It’s critical that they do so, as newborn calves are a favorite meal of many African predators. Before they are born, mom has to endure a 15-month pregnancy, which allows for the development of a six-foot-tall baby with strong muscles and nervous system.
These big birdies are straight out of Jurassic Park. Check out the bill.
Shoebills use their massive, powerful bills to kill and eat their prey, which is usually fish and sometimes small rodents. Shoebills clatter their bills to communicate with one another, but may also make mooing sounds as a form of communication.
Previously they were associated with the same order as storks and herons, but they have most recently been moved into the pelican grouping.
The shoebill usually gets to a height of 40 to 50 inches. Male shoebill birds weigh around 12 pounds. All shoebill have massive spoon-like bills and feature grey plumage that is brown when they’re younger. They have short necks and a large wingspan meant for soaring.
* Why feature the Shoebill?
There’s no particular reason why I decided to pick on the Shoebill this week. Perhaps it’s because I was feeling a little cross concerning the coronavirus confinement and the shoebill exemplified my frustration.
Earth Suds is an eco-friendly startup whose goal is to eliminate all single-use plastic amenity bottles (containing shampoo, conditioner and bodywash) and replace them with sustainable tablets that dissolve and lather like traditional soaps.
Although EarthSuds tablets started as a solution for hotels, the tablets are now being offered to the general public.
I first tried their Starter Pack, containing 5 tablets each of their shampoo, conditioner and body soap. More than satisfied, I went back for more of their shampoo and conditioner. I also ordered their larger (and reusable) travel case.
The tablets are not inexpensive, which stops me from using them on a regular basis. Still, they will be a forever item while traveling.
It’s a simple product with huge ramifications. The simple part: Crush the tablet, then along with a small bit of water, work up a nice lather in your hands, then wash like any other liquid soap. The huge ramifications: Earth Suds have the potential to eliminate the 5.7 billion amenity bottles sent to landfills every year in North America alone.
Earth Suds was named a top 10 global finalist in the National Geographic Ocean Plastic Innovation Challenge.
The product achieves all three dimensions of sustainability: economically it generates and re-invests profits, socially it employs adults with developmental disabilitie, and environmentally it eliminates single-use plastics.
RUNNING LIST OF ITEMS purchased in preparation for the Kenya/Uganda trip (some I may use again, some probably not)
Lions live in grasslands and plains. They do not live in the jungle.
The lion is the only member of the cat family that displays obvious markings (its mane) that distinguish the male from the female. A male’s mane grows darker as it ages. Female lions prefer males with fuller, thicker, darker manes.
The roar of a lion can be heard from 5 miles away. Lions use their roar as a form of communication. It identifies individuals, strengthens the pride’s bond, and lets other animals know of the pride’s domain.
A new-born lion has dark spots, which fade as the cub reaches adulthood.
Daughters stay with their mothers for life and may eventually have their own cubs. Sons will leave the pride at maturity in search of a pride of their own.
Unlike most other cat species, lions live in large groups called prides. A pride consists of multiple related females, their dependent offspring and two or three unrelated males. In the wild, lions rest for around 20 hours a day.
Female lions are the pride’s primary hunters. The males are first to eat when the female lions return with their kill. The kill is not shared equally within a pride, and at times of prey scarcity, cubs might experience higher mortality rates as hungry females may not even share with their offspring. A pride isn’t formed primarily for catching dinner or sharing parenting chores. They also need each other to ward off the dangerous advances of other lions.
A tuft at the end of the tail is a distinct characteristic of the lion.
African Lions May Be Extinct by 2050.
African lions may be facing extinction by the year 2050. The reason for the decline of the king of beasts can be summed up in one word: people. As more East Africans take up farming and ranching, they push farther into lion country. In just two decades, populations decreased by 43 percent. It’s estimated that as few as 23,000 remain today.
Some years ago, conservationists recognized what an important marketing draw the term “Big Five” had for safari agencies and camps. Wanting to bring attention to East Africa’s wonderfully diverse wildlife (little as well as big, feathery as well as furry, ignoble as well as dominate), they compiled a list of animals they called The Little Five. They chose animals whose names aligned with the names of the already famous Big Five.
Antlions live most of their lives underground (Good luck spotting one!) and are actually the larvae stage of a winged insect that, in adulthood, resembles a dragonfly.
The antlion digs a funnel-shaped crater in sandy or loose soil. When potential prey approach, the antlion will pretend to fall down the funnel so as to lure the prey in, thinking it has found an easy meal. Once its prey falls in, the ferocious little devil literally sucks its prey dry and discards the empty husk outside the hole.
Some species are considered endangered.
2. Buffalo Weaver
There are three species of buffalo weaver. All three are found in Kenya.
Like most weavers, the white-headed buffalo weaver is a social bird who forages on the ground for insects, fruits and seeds. It’s noisy, with a wide range of cackles and squeaks.
The white-headed buffalo weaver is listed as threatened.
The white-billed buffalo weaver is a dark little bird with a light-colored beak. The red-billed buffalo weaver has, not surprisingly, a red beak. Buffalo weavers are known for their rather messy communal nests that appear to be nothing more than a mishmash of grasses and twigs.
The buffalo weaver is the easiest among The Little Five to find and observe.
3. Elephant Shrew
This tiny insect eating mammal gets its name from its elongated snout. It sniffs out ants, termites, crickets, beetles and caterpillars, and uses its tongue to catch its dinner. With its long legs, it hops in search of small bites to eat.
The elephant shrew is food for snakes and birds of prey, so this little rodent has learned to be extremely cautious. It’s very shy and very speedy! It’s been seen running up to 17 miles/hr.
They are listed as vulnerable.
4. Leopard Tortoise
The leopard tortoise has beautiful leopard-like markings on their shells with perfect symmetrical black and yellow patterns. As they mature, their tortoise shell color changes from dark brown to yellow.
The largest ones can grow up to 18 inches in length and weigh up to 40 lbs. They can easily live for 80 – 100 years. In both very hot and very cold weather they may dwell in abandoned fox, jackal, or aardvark holes. Leopard tortoises graze extensively on mixed grasses, succulents and thistles.
Although most tortoises exported from Kenya and Tanzania originate in captive breeding programs, the United States banned their import because of the risk posed by heartwater, an infectious disease that could impact the livestock industry.
5. Rhinoceros Beetle
Entomologists estimate there are over 300 species of beetles worldwide that are considered rhinoceros beetles.
Rhino beetles are one of eastern Africa’s largest beetles. The male beetle sports a large horn atop its head. This horn is used to dig and burrow for food. and to fight during mating season. They don’t kill their rivals, but lift them up with their horn and toss them off the branch instead. Pound for pound they are said to be the strongest creatures on earth, with the ability to lift 850 times their own weight.
Female rhinoceros beetles don’t have the prominent horns that the males do.
These insects are nocturnal, which makes them difficult to spot. As fierce as they look, they are safe to pick up and examine, as they do not bite or sting.
For years, shukas has been a part of the ancient tradition of the Maasai people.
Traditional Maasai blankets are made from soft cotton (shuka) or wool. It’s known to be durable, strong, and thick — protecting the Maasai from the harsh weather and terrain of the savannah. While red is the most common color, the Maasai also use blue, striped, and checkered cloth to wrap around their bodies.
A shuka (or two) has found its way onto my Souvenir List, as it has a number of possible uses after I return home. Besides using it as a blanket, it can serve as a tablecloth, a scarf or a throw pillowcase.
Linda and I have plans to join Jacob Rothschild and his son for breakfast in late August. Lord Jacob, 4th Barron and member of the prominent Rothschild banking family, lives here in his palatial manor, 35 minutes outside of Nairobi, Kenya.
No, wait! This is not his home, and he and his son are not the Rothschilds we’ll be joining for breakfast. We’ll be eating breakfast with the Rothschild’s giraffes at Giraffe Manor.
The manor house was built in 1932 as a hunting lodge. In 1974, the lodge and surrounding grounds were turned into a giraffe sanctuary when the new owners learned that Rothschild’s giraffes were in danger of extinction. (The apostrophe is in the right place, by the way.) Since then, Rothschild’s giraffes have thrived, with 140 acres of indigenous forest to make their home, alongside warthogs, dik diks, waterbucks and over 180 species of bird.
There are more than ten giraffes on the property these days. They’re very used to the manor’s guests. In the morning, they put their heads through the open windows in order to eat the pellets that are served alongside each guest’s breakfast order.
Rothschild’s giraffes are one of the most endangered populations of giraffe, with 1,669 individuals estimated in the wild in 2016. They display no markings on the lower leg.
They are the only giraffes to be born with 5 ossicones. Two of these are the larger and more obvious ones at the top of the head, which are common to all giraffes. The third ossicone can often be seen in the center of the giraffe’s forehead, and the other two are behind each ear.
The Rothschild’s giraffe was named after Walter Rothschild, the above mentioned Jacob Rothschild’s great uncle. Walter Rothschild, 2nd Barron was a London banker, politician and zoologist. One hundred fifty-three insects, 58 birds, 17 mammals, three fish, three spiders, two reptiles, one millipede and one worm also carry his name.
A Marabou Stork is about as unattractive as a bird can be, with its head covered in scabby black spots, inflatable air sacks, and poop covered hollow legs. Yes, that’s right – poop covered hollow legs. You see, coating their legs with their own feces regulates their body temperature. Their legs aren’t actually white at all – it’s just poop.
They can reach a height of nearly 5 feet. To put that in perspective, imagine a toddler standing next to one.
The Marabou Stork’s coloring (It appears to be dressed in a black tailcoat and white collared shirt.) and its creepy looking head have earned it the nickname Undertaker Bird. But bless its spooky carnivore heart, it does mate for life.
Marabou Storks are carnivore carrion (dead animal) eaters, consuming termites, snakes, flamingo chicks, baby crocodiles and other reptiles in the wild. They’re often seen feeding with vultures, which they dominate.
In cities and villages, they hang around garbage dumps, slaughterhouses, and fish processing establishments, acting as the city’s unofficial garbage collectors. As annoying as this may seem, Marabous actually help to keep diseases from spreading.
Tourists used to visit the Masai Mara/Serengeti in order to see Marabou Storks in very large flocks. Nowadays, the birds have become a big city, town and village attraction.
In Nairobi, one can easily spot flocks of Marabou Storks on Mombasa Road, a busy thoroughfare near a place known as Nyayo Stadium, as they stand or perch motionless on trees and buildings.
They are seen all over Kampala, Uganda as well.
The president of Uganda tried to have them relocated once, but all efforts failed.
In Uganda, corruption is considered to be a way of life. Like Marabou Storks, corrupt officials feed on anything that comes their way. That’s why Ugandans have honored the Marabou with the dubious title of Unofficial National Bird of Uganda.
Some believe the Marabou’s numbers are rising due to the increasing human population which is accompanied by the increasing number of garbage dumps. They’re classified as “Least Concern” in terms of endangerment.
* Why feature the Marabou Stork?
There’s a bit (very small bit) of an urban theme going on this week, what with the city restaurant write-up and the matatu posts, so it seemed appropriate to feature one of Nairobi’s town birds – the Marabou Stork.
**The Ugly Five, by Julia Donaldson, is a children’s book that celebrates inner beauty and accepting who you are, while also informing kids about African animals. Our friend the Marabou Stork is one of The Ugly Five.
Kenda Mutongi, a professor of history at MIT, writes about the development of the matatu bus business amid the backdrop of a developing country with all the inevitable problems associated with a neophyte nation.
She tells of the ingenuity and tenacity of Nairobi’s mwanainchi (true citizens) despite the racist policies, economic oppression, and political corruption that permeated their world.
Though I lack even the tiniest bit of knowledge concerning urban development, Matatu: A History of Popular Transportation in Nairobi offered me a way to navigate the socioeconomic and political themes that play out in a newly developing, fast growing city.
I’m captivated by today’s matatu culture. Perhaps that’s why Professor Mutongi’s book, which might otherwise have been a long, laborious educational workshop was, for me, a fascinating adventure. The professor describes how Nairobi’s rapid growth ran in parallel with the evolution of the matatu transport business, as she chronicles both events from the time Britain relinquished colonial control, on into the twenty-first century. The two processes intertwine so completely that her claim that the success of one could not have happened without the success of the other, appears indisputable.
Matatu: A History doesn’t read like a dry, slow-moving textbook, but rather an engrossing tale of exploding urbanization, poverty, racism, bribery and exploitation, along with entrepreneurship, upward mobility, artistic expression, pop culture and a city’s sputtering lurch toward democracy. It’s all there for the reader to absorb.
Need something lighter? Try The Matatu by Eric Walters.
From the Forward by Ruth Kaytha, Director of The Creation of Hope
“Every culture has its own folktales and stories. Among the Kamba of Kikima, Kenya there is a story told about animals and matatus. Eric Walters and I were driving around when I told him a brief version of the story about the goat, the sheep and the dog. He decided to expand it and create a picturebook. We believe Kamba stories should be told by members of our tribe. In June of 2009, Eric was made a Kamba elder. It is only fitting that Eric has expanded and retold this Kamba story, as we consider him one of our own.”
A number of internet sites warn tourists against using Nairobi’s matatus, citing their utter disregard for traffic laws, lurking pickpockets and eager conmen. Other travel guides tout the buses’ quirkiness, with one detailing how to take kids on a tour of Nairobi using matatus as the singular mode of transportation.
I’m not remotely interested in cars of any kinda, but I became fascinated with these mobile works of art, and quickly found myself caught up in the matatu culture.
Matatus started as rickety, wired-together junkyard vans and pickups with wooden benches meant to accommodate commuters and farm animals. They were merely functional (when they functioned!). They have evolved into luxury mini buses blaring hip-hop music out into the streets while sporting snappy slogans and images of popular national and international stars. They are now fashionable as well as functional.
Each matatu is built entirely from scratch, usually from the stripped chassis of a new truck. Fabricators weld the skeletons and attach the side panels.
Upholsterers often work in tandem with the fabricators. Wiring for souped-up speakers and high definition TVs is installed.
Once the blank canvas is ready, matatu artists embellish the buses with graffiti and bold designs, covering them with images of movie stars, politicians, religious icons, cartoon characters, war heroes and humanitarian champions. A customized paint job can easily cost up to $20,000.
Sarafina Mumbi is a young Nairobi woman who is using her talents to break into the male dominated graffiti business. She began breaking ground as Kenya’s only female matatu artist in 2013. Despite overt prejudice and ill-treatment, she is now creating some of the most colorful matatus on the road.
Part of her break-through into this multi-million dollar industry was due to a 14-seat bus, commissioned by UNICEF, that she painted for International Women’s Day 2018. The text and images on that bus promoted Women’s Empowerment.
The matatu industry is a source of employment for hundreds of thousands of people, mostly youths. It employs garage, car wash and parking lot attendants, welders, system engineers, car dealers, upholsterers, drivers, conductors, mechanics and, of course, graffiti artists. Matatus aren’t simply modes of transportation. These Art Galleries on Wheels are a way of life.
– “The best word to describe Nairobi traffic? HECTIC! After hectic, it is CRAZY.” – “You know you’re in Nairobi when the main topic of conversation is the terrible traffic . . .” – “Woe unto you if any part of your day involves getting from one side of the city to the other.”
Comments like these pop up whenever a newspaper, internet site or travel book discusses transportation in the city of Nairobi.
In September 2019, Nairobi was ranked as the fourth most congested city in the world, an improvement over its 2017 second place ranking.
Knowing we’ll be visiting several tourist sites while in Nairobi, I looked into public transportation. Along with taxis, Uber, auto-rickshaws (tuk-tuks), motorcycle taxis (piki pikis) and city-run buses, there are privately owned vehicles called matatus.
Matatus are minibuses that weave and bounce around the city, blaring music and displaying 60s psychedelic-like art as they nimbly steer alternate routes, connecting the city more adeptly and more frequently than other types of transportation. Turning a blind eye to reckless driving, they’re able to dodge traffic jams, something only the single-seat motorcycle taxi can emulate. They’re cheap too, costing no more than $1.50 to go just about anywhere in the city. And they run well after dark.
Each matatu, as required by law, has a crew of two; a driver and a conductor. The driver’s job is to get the passengers to their destinations as quickly as possible. If that means driving on the wrong side of the road, speeding down a busy street, or reeling around blind up-hill corners, so be it.
The conductor performs many tasks, acting as a circus barker beckoning commuters to choose his bus, collecting fares and signaling the driver when to pick up or drop off passengers. He does all this while he hangs outside the matatu, even when it’s moving.
It is estimated that there are 18 thousand matatus connecting every inch of the city.
Individual matatu buses and routes are privately owned and operated, which means schedules and ticket prices can change at the whim of whoever’s in charge. Pick up and drop off points are called stages. It’s best to locate your boarding stage well in advance if you’re new to the city. Even finding the right stop can be tricky. As one travel book put it, “You just kind of have to know.” If you choose the wrong line, you could waste half a day on an already long trip.
As with any free market, price alone is not enough to attract customers, particularly the youth. Competition among matatu owners is high. They need to ensure their minibuses are top notch, spending up to $70,000 for the over-the-top amenities alone.
Matatus offer high speed internet connections and comfortable seats. (Seatbelts are now required by law.) Many have flat screen TVs, both inside and out, that continually play movies, music videos and sporting events. Some provide power sockets and USB outlets at every seat. iPads are available upon request. There are even Matatus with disco balls, fish aquariums and airline-type TVs on the back of every seat.
For longer trips outside the city, matatu owners have introduced hostesses, who offer services like those you might expect on a plane or train, carrying luggage or lounge waitressing.
Matatu culture is loved and loathed in equal measure. Some prefer the less pimped up versions, hoping to avoid the mayhem of loud music and questionable driving, but the urban youth continue to view them as part of their African identity.
The Carnivore is an open-air restaurant in Nairobi, Kenya. It’s specialty is meat, and features an all-you-can-eat meat buffet.
The Carnivore is reported to be touristy. Mincing no words, many travelers have labeled it a full-fledged Tourist Trap.
But if you’re interested in a lively dining atmosphere perpetuated by an out-going staff, it’s said to be the place to go (at least once, just to say you’ve been). They serve ox balls there, which sort of makes attendance mandatory.
Famous more for the presentation than for the food itself, the meat is skewered on Maasai swords, roasted over a coal pit, carved table side and served on cast-iron plates.
The Carnivore opened its doors in 1980 and became an instant success. It was praised for its game meat and the unique experience it offered. The UK magazine Restaurant named it one of the “World’s Best 50 Restaurants” in 2002 and 2003. The following year Kenya imposed a much-praised ban on the sale of game meat and there were fears that the restaurant might go under, yet it remained a popular tourist destination. Nowadays, it serves the meat of domestic animals, including rumps of beef, legs of lamp and pork, racks of ribs, sausages and chicken wings, as well as ostrich, camel and crocodile meat. It does have a vegetarian option for those who are forced into attendance.
Both lunch and dinner include salad, soup and a range of side dishes, followed by desserts and Kenyan coffee.
Years ago, colonial game hunters created a list of five of the toughest animals to hunt and kill on foot. Forever after, the list became known as The Big 5. It’s time to reorient our notions of The Big 5 and highlight the struggles that so many animals must endure to simply survive.
The New Big 5 is an international initiative to create a new list of five endangered wild animals from all over the world. The list will be The New Big 5 of Wildlife Photography.
The world’s wildlife is in crisis. The next ten years are critical. Moved by a sense of urgency and love for his subjects, Graeme Green, a British photographer, journalist and travel writer, created The New Big 5 project.
The project is a celebration of wildlife photography, and it pushes for recording with a camera instead of shooting with a gun.
More than a million species are currently at risk of extinction, from large mammals like elephants and polar bears, to the “unsung heroes” and little-known frogs, cats, birds, lizards and other species, each too valuable to lose.
The New Big 5 of wildlife photography might include koalas and orangutans, or tigers and grizzly bears, or sloths and pangolins or any other animal from any continent on earth whose future existence is in doubt.
With the support of Jane Goodall and 100 of the world’s top photographers, New Big 5 is asking everyone to vote. Before compiling the list, the creators want YOUR INPUT.
Use the link below to vote for your favorite five animals.
There are roughly 11,000 species of birds in the world. During this week in which we celebrate the 50th Anniversary of Earth Day, it is especially alarming to hear that nearly 40 percent of the world’s birds are facing significant decline. Among the threats to these creatures are habitat loss, deforestation, climate change and severe weather, plastic and pesticide pollution and illegal trafficking.
Despite Covid-19’s grip all around the world, professor, author and ornithologist Dr. Drew Lanham finds that birds give us one of the best tools we have for coping in today’s oppressive environment: hope. When speaking of his bird/hope connection, Lanham will sometimes cite a first line of Emily Dickinson. “‘Hope’ is the thing with feathers.”
In 2018, Lanham was the recipient of the National Audubon’s Lufkin Prize for his tireless advocacy to protect birds, his lifelong dedication to environmental health and his efforts in building a new generation of conservation leaders.
Some might view an Earth Day celebration amid a worldwide pandemic as a nonsensical, pointless exercise, but Dr. Lanham sees an optimistic future from back of his binoculars. He observes his beautiful birds, knowing that the things they need to survive (clean air, pure water and healthy, balanced ecosystems) are the same things upon which people rely. So he continues the work of protecting our planet, believing that it is a solid, smart investment that will pay off for generations.
“Conservation really means feeling deeply enough for something that you’re willing to save some for others. I think the word for that is ‘love’. And I think conservation is ultimately an act of love.” – J. Drew Lanham, PhD
Birds symbolize wisdom. Just ask an owl. Birds define grace and strength. Watch as they lock their outstretched wings and soar effortlessly overhead. Birds epitomize freedom, migrating to where they please, when they please. Birds are our first musicians, and they all play a different tune. They’re our link between heaven and earth.
We should be doing a better job maintaining that link.
“Stop and listen for the birds,” instructs Lanham. “If you can’t hear the birds, something is amiss.”
* Why feature all birds?
It’s Earth Day Week. That’s why.
BirdLive International is on a campaign to make a healthy natural environment a human right.
In an open letter to the Secretary-General of the United Nations, Birdlife International marked the 50th anniversary of Earth Day by calling for the UN to take a bold and unprecedented step: declare a healthy natural environment a fundamental human right. The letter calls on the UN, as part of its response to the coronavirus pandemic, to add an ‘Article 31’ to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights – enshrining a universal right to a healthy natural environment, guaranteed by public policies, governed by sustainability and by scientific and traditional indigenous knowledge.
Edited from The New York Times, April 8, 2020 By Annie Roth
Threatened and endangered animals are becoming casualties of the Covid-19 pandemic.
Rhino 911 is a nonprofit organization that provides emergency helicopter transport for rhinoceroses. Since South Africa announced a national lockdown on March 23, Rhino 911 has had to respond to a rhino poaching incident nearly every single day.
In neighboring Botswana, at least six rhinos have been poached since the country closed its borders.
These recent incidents are unusual because they occurred in tourism hot spots that, until now, were considered relatively safe havens for wildlife. South Africa, Botswana, Tanzania, and Kenya rely on tourism to fund wildlife conservation, but thanks to border closures and crackdowns on international travel, foreigners can’t visit national parks or conservancies.
This shines a light on the fact that Africa’s wild animals are not just protected by rangers, they’re also protected by the presence of tourists.
Poachers have normally avoided places where there are lots of tourists, but now they are feeling free to move into locations they’ve previously avoided.
Besides empty parks, no tourists means no money. National lockdowns have severely constricted Africa’s $39 billion tourism industry, which funds wildlife conservation all across the continent.
Without revenue from tourism, many parks, private reserves and community conservancies are finding it difficult to pay employees. Paid protection has dwindled. Rangers and private game guards have found their jobs in jeopardy. Many are being laid off. Those that are still employed are working alone.
If the economic situation doesn’t improve, not only will the poaching of rhinoceros, elephants and other iconic animals escalate, but poaching for the purpose of obtaining bushmeat will increase as well.
In the hopes of alleviating the situation, the Nature Conservancy, a U.S.-based environmental organization, recently began raising money for cash-strapped parks, conservancies and private reserves in Africa that need help paying rangers and guards.
For the occasion, National Geographic created its first-ever “flip” issue – essentially two magazines in one. With an eye on the today’s world environment, National Geographic examines the trajectory of The Earth’s health 50 years into the future. Half of the magazine’s pages present a hopeful scenario, while half lay out a truly dark destiny.
The editors refer to this issue as “magazines of divergent realities.”
One side celebrates the optimistic view of Planet Earth’s future health in which the peoples of the world have harnessed technologies to feed a larger population, provide energy for all, prevent the extinction of plants and animals and start reversing climate change.
Spirit-lifting articles and stunning images tell of the ingenuity and persistence used to find innovative solutions to the planet’s biggest problems.
There are several pages devoted to introducing a generation of conservationists who are set to take up the environmental torch.
Progress seems inevitable.
When the reader turns the magazine over, a Dooms Day view is presented. There are stories of the flooding of Venice and low-lying U.S. coastal cities, massive fires that wipe out entire towns, longer droughts, deadlier heat waves, disappearing species, and scared, strip-mined landscapes.
Humans are changing the planet – and not always for the good.
Questions remain. How far have we come to date? How far can we go? Is it already too late?
In 2008, Africa’s Northern White Rhinos were considered extinct in the wild. In the years that followed, the situation got worse. But scientists had a plan.
PHASE 1: GATHER UP THOSE THAT REMAIN
The Ol Pejeta Conservancy, at the base of Mt. Kenya, houses the only 2 remaining Northern White Rhinos in the world: Fatu, 30, and her daughter Najin, 19.
They live there under 24-hour armed guard.
In 2009, they were moved to Ol Pejeta, along with two males, Suni and Sudan, from a zoo in the Czech Republic. Of the eight Northern Whites left in the world, these four rhinos were thought to be the most fertile.
The rhinos were packed in special wooden crates built to support their weight for the flight to Kenya.
But first they had to be crate trained so that they’d enter the crates on their own. Those of us with dogs know how easy that must have been!
The rhinos were moved to the conservancy in hopes that a natural environment would encourage them to mate and reproduce. They did mate. They did not reproduce.
It was discovered that neither of the females were able to carry a calf. Fatu has degenerative lesions in her uterus and Najin has weak hind legs which could cause complications if she became pregnant.
A final blow was delivered in 2018 when Sudan, the last remaining male, had to be euthanized.
While Sudan’s death was devastating, scientists were prepared. An international consortium of scientists and conservationists had been collecting and freezing semen from Northern White Rhino bulls for years.
At the same time, the team was devising an in vitro fertilization process for the endangered whites (where an egg and sperm are fertilized outside the body).
This was an amazing undertaking. Artificial insemination had successfully produced white rhino calves, but in vitro fertilization had never been completed with rhinos before.
PHASE TWO: HARVESTING THE EGGS
In August of last year, the team was able to harvest a total of 10 oocytes (immature eggs), five from Najin and five from Fatu. Both the technique and the equipment had to be developed entirely from scratch. The cost in time and research was in the millions of euros.
The eggs, which cannot be frozen, were immediately flown to a laboratory in Italy to eventually be fertilized with the frozen sperm from four deceased males.
PHASE THREE: FERTILIZING EGGS
From the ten eggs, two embryos were created in September 2019, and the third was created in December. The embryos are being stored in liquid nitrogen, with conservationists planning to implant them in a southern white rhino surrogate mother in the future.
PHASE FOUR: SET THE STAGE FOR A ROMANTIC ENCOUNTER
One of the things the scientists are struggling to work out is the timing to implant the embryo. They need to know exactly when the female’s body is best ready for the embryo to attach to the uterus lining.
Scientists are hoping that the chances of the surrogate carrying the pregnancy through to birth may be increased if they implant the embryo right after she has mated.
This hunch has led them to set the scene for the next stage in their elaborate plan. Four wild female southern white rhinos have been enclosed with their offspring in their natural habitat.
The next step is to put a sterilized southern white rhino in with the females (would-be surrogates). As soon as they see the sterilized bull mounting, they dart the female, put the embryo in and hope for the best.
In the best case scenario, only a handful of calves may be born from Najin and Fatu’s eggs, and the lack of genetic diversity between the half-siblings could make it impossible to create a viable breeding population. To tackle that problem, stem cell research will have to be done, and that brings up the question of medical ethics. Nothing is easy about this entire operation.
If all this work miraculously produces babies, the first northern white rhino to be born should be named Lazarus.
Rhinoceroses are large herbivorous animals identified by their characteristic horned snouts.
They have been living on Earth for nearly 12 million years. Although they were probably a lot woollier back then.
There are five species of rhino. Two species, the Black Rhino and the White Rhino, are native to Africa.
There is actually very little color difference between black rhinos and white rhinos. They are both dark grey in color. The color of both species can vary greatly depending on local soil conditions, as all rhinos tend to roll about in the dust and mud.
Rhinos like to wallow in mud in order to create a protective layer on their sensitive skin. This prevents sunburn and insect bites, and helps to keep them cool.
The white rhino is the larger of the two African species. They can grow to 6 feet in height and weigh more than 5,000 lbs. Appropriately, a group of rhinos is called a crash.
Typically, rhinos live in crashes of 3 – 10, relying on each other for protection. Black rhinos are solitary animals and must take responsibility for their own well-being. They tend to be the more aggressive of the two species.
African rhinos only have hair on their ears, tail tips and eyelashes.
Rhinos have three toes, making their closest relatives tapirs, zebras and horses. They have poor eyesight, but a heightened sense of smell and an excellent sense of hearing.
While out on safari, one of the ways to distinguish between the black rhino and the white rhino is by looking at the animal’s top lip.
A black rhino has a specialized (prehensile) upper lip that is capable of grasping and browsing.
A browser is a herbivore that specializes in eating leaves, fruits of high-growing woody plants, soft shoots and shrubs. A browser doesnot feed on grass or other low growing vegetation.)
The white rhino has a wide, flat upper lip that’s perfect for grazing. (A grazer is a herbivore that feeds on plants such as grass and other low-lying vegetation. You know, they graze just like cows and sheep.)
Both species have two horns which are made of tightly woven filaments of keratin, not bone. Keratin is a protein found in human hair, fingernails and animal hooves. The horns are not attached to its skull.
The longest horn on record belonged to a white rhino and measured just under five feet.
Rhinos need to drink once a day, so they stay within 5 km of water. In very dry conditions, they can dig for water using their forefeet.
Rhinos have been hunted nearly to extinction. Their horns are sometimes sold as trophies or decorations, but more often they are ground up and used in traditional Chinese medicine.
Remarkable recoveries have been seen over the past ten years for several species, including the black rhino in Africa but poaching remains the largest threat. Until just months ago, only two Northern White Rhino remained in the world.
Souvenirs aren’t really my thing. They used to be, but I simply have too much junk nowadays. Can’t imagine adding to it. When I do buy, I’m careful to only buy items that I’m absolutely, positively sure I’ll use when the trip is over.
Except . . . there is this one item I’ll never use when I return home, and it is Number 1 on my Souvenir List.
I hope to purchase the wooden walking stick I’ll be using on my trek to see the gorillas.
Nothing fancy. Just an ordinary stick.
I imagine I’ll have to finagle a way to get it on the plane home. Once there, I’ll hang it on my wall and let the memories flash before me whenever I look upon it.
According to a not too recent Weekend Edition on NPR, Kenyans are crazy about country music. They enjoy songs from the 70s and 80s best, and are particularly fond of Dolly Parton and Kenny Rogers. As much as you’re apt to hear Patsy Cline, Crystal Gayle and Vince Gill playing in the local bars, Kenyans don’t follow U.S. country singers exclusively.
“My Land is Kenya,” by Nairobi-born folk artist Roger Whittaker, makes even the young hip-hop crowd stand a little bit taller. (If you take time to watch and listen to the video, you’ll note that his signature whistling skills come through loud and clear.)
The song isn’t in danger of becoming a hit in my house anytime soon, but it does have some nice lines:
“My land is Kenya, so warm and wild and green. You’ll always stay with me here in my heart. My land is Kenya, right from your highlands to the sea. You’ll always stay with me here in my heart, here in my heart.” (Whittaker. Roger Whittaker in Kenya: A Musical Safari, 1982)
Try not to compare it to Woody Guthrie’s “This Land is Your Land,” and just think of it as a musical warmup to today’s rather boring topic.
My Land is Kenya and it’s covered with more than savanna grasslands.
While providing habitats for animals and livelihoods for humans, forests also offer watershed protection, prevent soil erosion and mitigate climate change.
Sadly, Kenya is still allowing its forests to disappear. From 1990 to 2015, forest cover declined by 25%.
Agricultural cropland refers to that share of land suited for crops where there is no need to replant after harvest (e.g. coffee, rubber, fruit trees, etc.). Cropland has increased exponentially in the last 25 years.
The Kenyan wetlands are resources of great economic, cultural and scientific value.
Wetlands provide critical habitats for a wide range of flora and fauna, including a large number of aquatic plants, resident and migratory birds, fish, and herbivores.
Wetlands are areas of great scenic beauty. They are a tourist attraction, form important recreation sites for game and birds watching, swimming, photography and sailing.
They’re important sources of water for human consumption, agriculture and the watering of livestock. They recharge wells and springs that are often the only source of water to some rural communities.
Savanna grasslands are found where rainfall between 20-50 inches is concentrated into a few months.
Kenya’s rainy season is March-May and September–October, with long periods of drought in between. Once it rains in March, the grasses grow very rapidly, sometimes as much as an inch a day. Lots of animals are born at this time. In a good rainy season, there’s plenty of food for animals like the antelope, and mothers will have plenty of milk for their young.
In Kenya there are only three incorporated cities but there are numerous municipalities and towns with significant urban populations.
NAIROBI, THE CAPITAL CITY
Nairobi, the capital city of the Republic has grown from a simple Uganda Railway construction camp to a modern center of commercial, financial, manufacturing and tourist destination in eastern Africa.
It replaced Mombasa as Kenya’s capital in 1907 and became a city in 1950. Today, the city population stands at about 4 million. Both the Great North Road (Cairo to Cape Town) and the Trans-African Highway (Mombasa to Lagos) pass through the city.
Mombasa is the second largest city in the country, with a population of about 600,000. It is the official gateway to the country by sea. It has a history dating back to more than 2,000 years, when the Persians, Arabs, Greeks and Romans visited the East African Coast and carried out trade between the Coast and the Mediterranean Lands.
It is built on what was formerly an island, separated from the mainland by a narrow channel until a causeway was built at the beginning of this century, connecting the island with the mainland. Tourists come to Mombasa Island to enjoy its calm beauty, once described by Winston Churchill (1908) as “alluring and delicious”.
I can answer that question. The White-Bellied Go-Away-Bird gets its name from the distinctive call it uses when it feels threatened — g’way, g’way!
Go-Away-Birds are semi-zygodactylous. Didn’t know that, did you?
Let me explain. Zygodactyly is an arrangement of digits in birds with two toes facing forward and two back. Go-Away-Birds are semi-zygodactylous, meaning their fourth (outer) toe can be switched back and forth.
The bill is black in the male, pea-green in the female. They often have prominent crests and long tails.
The White-Bellied Go-Away Bird feeds on fruits, flowers, nectar, leaves and seed pods. It’s considered a pest in some regions, raiding orchards and plantations of fruiting trees and vegetable crops.
* Why feature the White-Bellied Go-Away-Bird?
Now, who wouldn’t be at least a little bit curious about a bird whose official name is Go-Away?
Kenya Coffee is widely considered to be among the best coffees in the world.
Kenya’s perfect coffee growing climate, rich soil and wet processing method combine to produce the finest beans. It would stand to reason that Kenyans are enjoying their coffee all across the country – morning, noon and night.
Yet Kenyans, who were once citizens of the former British Kenya Colony, have inherited The Crown’s preference for tea rather than coffee.
Nairobi Java House One of the first coffee shops in Nairobi and home to one of Kenya’s best hand-roasted coffees is Nairobi Java House. Apparently, it’s Nairobi’s answer to Starbucks. From its website: Java House opened its first store in 1999 at Adam’s Arcade in Nairobi. With the aim of introducing gourmet coffee drinking culture in Kenya, the first outlet was a coffee shop and later the brand evolved to an American diner style restaurant to its present-day status as a 3 -day part coffee-led, casual dining concept.” Nairobi Java House, ABC Pl., Waiyaki Way, Nairobi, Kenya, +254 20 350 4468
Artcaffe Coffee and Bakery From its website: Artcaffe is a full service bakery, coffee shop, bar and casual dining restaurant,open daily from 7am to midnight that targets customers of all ages who care about quality, ambience, community and value for money in the products they consume and their experience. We freshly bake artisanal bread and pastries, we brew real Kenyan coffee, craft signature cocktails and lead the way in modern casual dining in Kenya. Artcaffé, Westgate Mall, Mwanzi Rd, Nairobi, Kenya, +254 725 20202, or Artcaffé, Dagoretti Road, The Hub Shopping Mall, Karen, Nairobi, Kenya +254 790 124892
Urban Grind Coffee & Grill Advertised on Tripadvisor: At Urban Grind, we pride ourselves on offering our guests:• A delicious assortment of specialty drinks, a good food selection as well as the finest coffees, including cappuccino, café au lait, latte, and mocha. Apparently a bit off the beaten track, but worth the journey. Urban Grind, Highway Mall Along Uhuru Highway, Nairobi, Kenya +254 70 895 4515
Pete’s Cafe and Burrito Haven From its website: We are known as a coffee company before anything else. We go out of our way to source for quality coffees all over the region as each country’s coffee is unique in its own way. Our choice of a Mexican Cuisine is because we believe in great tasting, healthy and flavorful meals. The owner of Pete’s is a former barista champion of Kenya. Seating is on a leafy outdoor patio filled with umbrellas. Pete’s Cafe and Burrito Haven, Bishop Magua Centre, Ngong Rd, Nairobi, Kenya +254 20 2177453
Gibsons Coffee House This coffee house grows its own coffee. From its website: Our uncompromised quality of food and high level of service, attracts customers and ensures they leave with a memorable experience. Gibsons Coffee House, Banda St., Nairobi, Kenya, +254 728 981656
Kaldis Coffee House Locals especially appreciate Kaldis’ breakfasts, milkshakes and coffee. Kaldis Coffee House, Kimathi St., Nairobi, Kenya, +254 725 00 0784
Connect Coffee Connect Coffee is a small cafe that follows the coffee-making process from bean to brew. From its website: We roast coffee every day onsite and ONLY serve coffee prepared between 2-14 days. We provide a variety of extraction methods based on the coffee bean characteristic to meet customers preference and choice. From each sale of a cup of coffee we donate 5% to improve coffee farmers welfare. Connect Coffee, The Riverfront, Nairobi, Kenya +254 708 790480
Pointzero Coffee From Google Guide: Located right next to Nairobi Gallery, this is one of the most sensible meeting spots in Nairobi. It’s central but not in the bustle of the city, it’s rooted but yet seems mobile seeing as the kitchen is based on a food truck, it’s shielded from the elements yet open enough for you to feel you’re outdoors. They have a great drinks and menu, numerous choices of coffee and a very powerful Dawa for a chilly Nairobi day. It’s a place to go again and again. Pointzero Coffee, Posta Rd / Next to Nyayo House, PO Box 5449, Nairobi, Kenya +254 707 789376
As noted earlier, “kahawa” means “coffee” in Swahili. But, honestly, doesn’t it seem like “java” ought to be the Swahili translation?