Today was awesome. We left the camp early in the morning and trekked back to Nairobi for meetings at the “offices” (which are more like a zoo) of the Kenya Wildlife Service. We met with the KWS director, the head of KWS’s Rangers (which are paramilitary poacher fighters), and the founder of the Save the Elephants NGO, all fascinating.
We then visited the on-site orphanage for abandoned animals: lions, hyenas, leopards, and all kinds of birds. The ostrich reached over its fence and stole the book of a hapless child. As it tried to eat the book, one of the keepers ran in to take it away from him. The ostrich did NOT like this and attacked the keeper, who had to flee the pen. He then ran around the outside of the pen. As the ostrich followed him, still trying to peck at him, another keeper snuck in and removed the book. That’s teamwork!
This was the second ostrich incident we witnessed. While visiting geothermal energy plants on Thursday we saw an ostrich in a field next to the road. He was standing by himself and kind of “dancing.” We pulled forward and then it became clear why he was dancing: there was a female ostrich about 100 meters away. As we watched, he then ran to her and, voila’, we witnessed ostrich sex. Even though it lasted less than two minutes, most of us were inspired by the wacky moves and “doing the ostrich” is sure to happen the next time we are on the dance floor.
The best part of the orphanage was the cheetah pen. The keepers let us in to play with the big cats and they were so fun—just like housecats, except that they can run 70 mph and rip your head off. They were very sweet, though, and purred loudly while we scratched under their chins. I completely forgot that I am allergic to cats until I started sneezing while baiting one cheetah with her chew toy.
The afternoon featured a visit to the David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust, an orphanage for baby elephants and rhinos. We met with Dame Daphne Sheldrick about the work they do, and then played with the elephants themselves. I almost fell over during my first elephant contact. I reached out to say hello to a baby (~600 lbs), who responded by reaching out a muddy, funky-feeling trunk to probe my neck. While there was nothing threatening about it, it was a very unfamiliar feeling that caused me to take a step back—on uneven, rocky terrain. Once I regained my composure, I greeted the elephant as we had been instructed to do, by blowing into its trunk. At that point it lost interest in me—was it my breath?
My favorite part of the trip so far, though, occurred before we even met the elephants, just as we were entering the orphanage. There was a rhino scratching her neck on a stone by the entrance. This was my first time so close to a rhino–maybe 15 feet away. I was struck by how dinosaur-like she was, like a creature from another time.
Assuming she was “part of the show” we stopped to take pictures. She noticed us, stopped scratching and began trotting over toward us, at which point the elephant keepers yelled at us to run. WHOA! Wild rhino charging after us!!!! It was like the running of the bulls but without a fence to climb over for safety!
She didn’t seem malicious; I think she just wanted to say hi or to play so I was torn between going with the class and holding my ground to say hi. Still, a wild rhino could kill a human pretty easily by playing so I listened to the keepers and followed the rest of the class. The keepers corralled the rhino, who it turns out visits daily to pay her respects to a rhino orphan who resides there. Being “chased” by a rhino was a real rush, though. She was so huge and powerful—what a great fullback she would have made!