Monday, July 28, 2008

Of Rhinos and Camel Meat

*Note: Text and all photos in all Kenya posts are by Shawn Billerman unless otherwise noted.

Day 10 – July 4, 2008

The next noteworthy adventure that we went on was a trip to Sweetwaters Game Reserve. This park is special because it is a rhino sanctuary. In Kenya, all rhino sanctuaries are fenced to prevent rhinos from leaving, and all rhinos are heavily guarded to protect them from poachers. Sweetwaters has both Black and White Rhinos, both of which had to be reintroduced to the park from other parts of Africa. We spent much of the day driving around Sweetwaters, and I was able to add 5 or 6 new birds, including Red-capped Lark, Black-winged Lapwing, and Grassland Pipit. Around lunch, we went to an area of the park that was like a visitor’s center. There were many school children there on field trips, and many tourists. After we ate, we entered a fenced enclosure with an armed guard to see Morani (Maasai for warrior), a tame Black Rhino. It was actually very depressing. Morani is over 30 years old, and was rescued as a baby, after poachers killed his mother. When older, he was re-released to another rhino sanctuary. While there, he got into fight with another male, who castrated him (apparently what male Black Rhinos do to other male Black Rhinos intruding in their territory). Injured, he went to live at Sweetwaters, where caretakers kept a close watch on him. Now, Morani is blind, and his horn was removed last year when it got infected. When we saw him, he just lied on the ground, as we all lined up to pat his back.

Can you find the Helmeted Guineafowl (Numida meleagris)?; Common Bulbul (Pycnonotus barbatus) (photo by Jess Marion); Morani the Black Rhino (Diceros bicornis); Giraffe (Giraffa reticulata); Crowned Lapwing (Vanellus coronatus) (photo by Jess Marion)

Common Ostrich female (top) and male (bottom) (Struthio camelus) (photos by Jess Marion)

Just before leaving the parking area, I noticed a Yellow-throated Longclaw perched atop an acacia. What an awesome bird. Anyway, after seeing Morani, we drove around the park for another hour or so, during which time Harry serenaded us with his new song, “Be my little Warthog.” After we left, we stopped in Nanyuki to be tourists. We visited some shops to get souvenirs. Part of visiting these shops is bargaining, which, needless to say, I suck at. That first day I definitely got ripped off. No matter. When we finished shopping, our van took a slight detour before going back to Mpala. Irby took us to a part of Nanyuki not often seen by tourists, to a camel butchery, to buy some camel meat. We ended up getting 1.25 kg of meat, and 0.25 kg of hump, which is pure fat (looks like Crisco). We left with the camel to head back to Mpala. On our way back, I spotted another new bird, a Pin-tailed Whydah, which, sadly, was my only Viduid for the trip. Also on the way back to camp, I noticed a great place in a small village between Nanyuki and Mpala: Mwangi’s Keg Den. Many people were disappointed they couldn’t have taken me there for my birthday. For dinner that night, the camp staff cooked up the camel we had purchased in Nanyuki, and most people were at least willing to try it. I’m just glad that it wasn’t the main course, and that there was plenty of other food to eat that night. It didn’t taste bad, it was very much like beef, but it was very tough and chewy. I later thought to myself, “how many other Americans are celebrating the 4th of July with camel meat?” If anyone has an answer, please inform me.

Irby and Dustin standing in front of the Subira Camel Butchery (photo by Eric Denemark)

There was an interesting difference in mousebird abundance between Mpala and Sweetwaters. At Mpala, Speckled Mousebirds were particularly common, and I saw perhaps only a single Blue-naped during my entire stay. However, at Sweetwaters, Blue-naped Mousebirds were by far the more common species. The guide I was using was unable to offer any insight into the difference in habitat preference, and if anyone has any experience with these two mousebirds and can shed any light on the situation, please let me know.

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