Dry Samburu

Dry Samburu

The weather in the Northern Frontier continues to tease us in a mean way, and I fear that a real drought has taken hold.

It use to be that droughts came about every ten years, were horrible for about two years, then quickly faded into memory. The last 4-5 years in East Africa has not seen the devastation of the last real drought of 1992-94, but more agonizingly, has hit certain areas even worse, while flooding others.

This extreme patchwork of weather is a blessing on the one hand, but is beginning to foment real fear among the local population that farming can no longer be planned. Northern Kenya starting around Mt. Kenya has been hit pretty hard since the heavy rains of 2003 flooded much of the area. And year after year since then, there are sections that have been utterly devastated.

This year it appears that one of those areas will be Samburu and Buffalo Springs national parks. Even as we watched heavy rains on Mt. Kenya to the south, the angry winds were creating dust storms in the parks.

From the Aberdare we headed to the Equator and stopped for the great fun demonstration of the coriolos effect. Then, to bargaining! Tourism is way down and prices are too, and India in her endless quest for all things orange, picked up a beautiful beaded shawl for ten bucks!

We then stopped at the Nanyuki Weavers for a full tour and the kids took time to disrupt the school day of the local primary school. As I’ve written before, I discourage “charity” of the sort most tourists would like to evince, (see blog of February 20 of this year), but on-the-spot generosity is heart warming.

The kindergarten kids literally mobbed Nicky, Phoebe, Emma, India, Ellery and Zanzy. They grabbed their hands, wanted rides on the shoulders of the older boys and posed for many of Ellery’s photos. Then towards the end of the “gathering” Nicky asked his mom, Hillary, if he could give them his football.

As the blue-and-white slightly undersize football soared into the playground to endless cheering, I think, too, a few of my clients souls soared just as high.

We continued on the Chinese road, a most amazing story that I wrote about in the blog of March 15 of this year. Its rapid development has slowed slightly, and so there are deviations along the way that take us back to the old road. Nicky delighted in these “bumpy” times!

For the time being, anyway, game viewing isn’t so bad despite the drought. In fact, there were some very unusual sights that worry me, but very much pleased my clients.

Grevy’s zebra is an unusual species found only in the northern frontier. It is seriously endangered even though its numbers have increased nicely in the last 4-5 years. There are now about 2700 individuals. In Samburu park, there would normally be around 200.

We saw at least 400, and in truly analogous behavior, they were herding. Grevy’s are normally solitary. This could mean that they are trying to migrate out of the dry area into the fresh and well watered areas of Mt. Kenya and Meru. On the other hand, it might just mean they’re all coming to the dry river’s edge, because that’s where the last grass is found.

I think they’re trying to migrate. But they’re going to have a difficult time this time, as the Chinese are completing construction of a main road from Isiolo north into the desert, and there is increased traffic and a lot of heavy equipment commotion. It’s still possible, but will undoubtedly confuse them.

Vulturine guinea fowl are the beautiful cousins of the very common helmeted guinea fowl, but this time we saw dozens more vulturine than common! In fact, we estimated seeing nearly 2000 vulturine guinea fowl. These are a desert species in the best of times, and their unusual congregation must mean that the drought is deepening.

We also encountered good numbers of oryx, Grant’s gazelle, lots of impala and baboon, and reasonable numbers of elephant. On the east side of the park, the Isiolo river continues to flow pretty well, actually creating a flowing stream under the Archer’s Post bridge and keeping alive the Lorian Marsh. The river is fed by underground streams and aquifers created by Mt. Kenya, an indication that the rains there weren’t completely bad.

And the wildlife in that area is wonderful. We found three cheetah on a Grant’s gazelle kill, and many beautiful reticulated giraffe.

But east of there, where our Larsen’s Camp and most of the other lodges and tented camps are located, the river is completely dry, since this area is fed by the Aberdare, and the rainfall there has been sporadic. Where elephant have dug wholes in the now dry Ewaso Nyiro River, the lodge staffs are beginning to. It’s the only way to save most of the animals.

Normally Kenya’s Long Rains end in June, but it continues to rain on parts of the Aberdare and Mt. Kenya. It won’t be able to break the dust of the drought of Samburu, but if it can restart the Ewaso Nyiro River, total devastation might be avoided.

Never to worry about the monkeys, however! India and Anne’s tent was invaded early one morning by the ever present vervet. The early morning cookies were taken, but according to India, Anne’s demonstrative screams saved them from further monkey destruction!