CFSIA Day 22: Mbita

As of yesterday we’re staying at the beautiful and spacious ICIPE compound in Mbita, Homa Bay county, on the shores of Lake Victoria. There’s a huge diversity of birds here (egrets, kites, weaverbirds, ibises, flycatchers, finches, eagles, hamerkops, bulbuls, and more) and a ton of flowers and fruit trees. It’s an amazing setting to stay in this week while we finish up our semester in Kenya with assignments and final exams. Having WiFi again doesn’t hurt either.

Our last couple of days in the Masai Mara were incredible. We went on a total of four game drives in the reserve, two at dawn and two at dusk for a total of twelve hours spent driving among the wildlife. Aside from the usual (funny how now all these animals seem “usual”) gazelles, impala, zebra, giraffes, warthogs, buffalo, etc., we had several really special sightings. On the first morning drive, we came upon a cheetah devouring a Thomson’s gazelle that it had killed only a couple of hours earlier. We watched for a while, then just as we were about to leave, a hyena wandered over and circled around the truck before approaching the kill. There was a brief confrontation with some growling, and then the cheetah yielded and went to go lie down in the grass. Cheetahs are built for speed, not strength, and so they’ll usually pass up a fight in these kinds of situations. Throughout the next couple of drives we saw another cheetah with its three kittens playing in the grass, and a third just relaxing on its own. Seeing as there are much less cheetahs in the park than lions, we felt pretty lucky.

We also saw quite a few hyenas, which I actually find to be quite cute-looking (yet somehow terrifying at the same time). They’re really fascinating creatures with bizarre reproductive habits and a matriarchal society. Some were walking or resting together, but the best was spotting from afar a mother hyena with her pups. The mothers hardly ever take their pups out of the dens so again we were quite fortunate.

There were also a few herds of female elephants with their young, a couple of male elephants seen alone, pairs of ostriches, vultures, secretary birds, topi, jackals, and a large pod of hippos resting in a river. I was amazed by how big hippos actually are. The one male was enormous, the small babies stuck by their mothers’ sides, and the whole group was making a soothing white-noise chorus as they surfaced to breathe.

After the first three game drives, we had seen a lot of cool things, but we definitely felt the absence of one particular animal sighting: lions. The last drive was an optional one, and about half of the group decided to stay behind and work on assignments, but those who chose to go were not disappointed. The intrepid Mukhtar led us to a male lion lounging beside a clump of bushes. He was quite old, as we could tell from his missing canine tooth and lack of a pride. I was absolutely in awe. We watched him yawn and wash his paws for a bit, and then he bagan to lope away. Even though some of us wanted to leave him alone at that point, we still followed, even blocking his path a bit along with the other safari vehicle that had joined us. Eventually we did leave, but it made me think a lot about the effects of tourism in the Mara on the wildlife.
On our way out of the park, we came upon a pride of five females and one male, all just lying in the grass. We only had time to watch for a little bit, but it was awesome. Lions are such beautiful creatures and their eyes are really soulful. As we left for real we even passed another male, but we really didn’t have time to stop at that point as it was already past the time the reserve closes.

During our stay at the Mara we were fortunate to have Geoffrey Wahungu, the director general of the National Environment Management Authority, come talk to us about the intricacies of environmental policy and also lead the Natural History class in a data collection exercise about ungulate social organization that we carried out on the game drives. We learned a lot from Geoff about NEMA, balancing the needs of development with the needs of conservation, and the process of establishing a data collection protocol and analysis method. He was a really great reference for my group’s research project, which we have slowly been conducting interviews for. I definitely feel like I have a better perspective on human-wildlife conflict after our stay in the Masai Mara, really thanks to Geoff.

Then yesterday we left our campsite and drove about 6 hours to get here, with a Nakumatt stop in the middle to refill on toiletries, school supplies, snacks, etc. Since my sunglasses are currently held together with duct tape I attempted to find a pair, before discovering that they don’t sell them. Sunglasses are not really a thing in Africa- I should have guessed. Oh well. Polka dot duct tape is always in style right?

Stay tuned for another post from Mbita before we leave for Uganda!

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