03 October 2014

Lions, Tigers, and Bears!

I have wanted to go on a safari...probably since as long as knew what one was. When I was in junior high my life plan was to become a zoologist and save the big cats in Africa. But then I realized how much science was involved in that (I pass science classes best when cheating) and my mom pointed out that my plan to go to Africa and just shoot all the poachers wasn't really well thought out. I still think it's not a bad idea though. Now however I can happily cross safariing off my list!

A couple of my best friends, E&M, live in Nairobi and over the last two years they've becomes seasoned safariers. Having already been to a lot of the parks around Kenya we wanted to go somewhere new for them and so chose the Samburu National Park at which we arrived after a six hour drive. Luckily it was just the three of us in the van so we had plenty of room to stretch out.

Samburu is famous for being the home of some subspecies that don't live anywhere else. Of the eight types of giraffes in Africa, the reticulated giraffe lives only in North Africa. With its regular, latticework pattern, the reticulated giraffe is probably the one most people picture in their head when thinking 'giraffe' if for no other reason than usually anything giraffe-patterned is modeled on the reticulated giraffe.

Bulls test a cow's urine as part of the mating ritual.

We no sooner entered the park and popped the top of the van before we were seeing animals! Literally right out of the gate (or in it as the case were) we saw zebras, elephants, and giraffes. We stayed at a lodge in Samburu which is really convenient as we were already right there for the morning and afternoon game drives. Our lodge, the Sentrim Samburu ... I would not recommend.

Apparently the lodge had been damaged when the river flooded but had been open again for several months already when we stayed. We were the only guests which was...odd. The lodges had no mosquito nets (a must) and I woke up the second day with a couple dozen mosquito bites. A mild headache and sore throat also had me convinced that I had malaria (I did not take the pre course meds) but E pointed out that it takes longer than 10 hours for malaria symptoms to show. The pool filter was also broken turning their small pool into a small, green, slightly scummy pond. Which did not make it an ideal place to spend the ridiculously hot afternoons. The game drives really made up for it all though!

Friends and family have asked about how the safari was but honestly I have no words. I've seen a lot of these animals before in zoos of course; but roaming free in herds, against the amazing Kenyan landscape, seeing them mix with other species, and stare down our van...breathtaking. Lauren sent me a great book for my birthday, a safari companion that describes a lot of animal characteristics and behavior and we were lucky enough to see a lot of that interaction; including a fight between two giraffe bulls! Their skulls are amazingly dense (and apparently grow more so as they age) and they use their heads and necks to hit each other. A hard enough blow can knock down a giraffe. A lot of the fighting looks like dancing with the two combatants circling one another until one (or both simultaneously) whips his neck around to smack the other.

Giraffes fight with neck and head

It's kind of hilarious

Absolutely no part of my body is anywhere near that flexible!!

 Up next...elephants!

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