Second in a series on Julie Scardina's recent trip to Africa
We had just come from Nairobi, through the Mt. Kenya Safari Club, made famous by old movie stars who wanted to experience Africa in the lap of luxury. We enjoyed our stay for sure, but were anxious to see Africa, real Africa, with all its complexities and roughness. Our next stop would confirm this Africa - Samburu National Reserve, an arid area of Northern Kenya where many elephants, zebra and other herbivores did not survive the past 18 months of drought. The Samburu people lost most of their cattle, the main measure of wealth in their culture. Now they must deal with the future. It is certainly very gratifying to know we support quite a few projects in the region through the SeaWorld & Busch Gardens Conservation Fund.
Save The Elephants, an organization founded and run by the famous elephant researcher Iain Douglass-Hamilton, was one of our visits. Ewaso Lions, headed up by an impressive young Kenyan, Shivani Bhalla, would take up the next morning. Finally, we would meet up with Belinda Low, founder and executive director of the Grevy's Zebra Trust.
A common theme was repeated in each meeting - there are more people than ever before, the resources are less predictable than ever before and there is more wildlife conflict than ever before. All three organizations are working hard to come up with solutions to reduce conflict and educate the local populations about wildlife and conservation - important not just for the animals but also for the communities that share the habitats.
We did see real Africa - and learned about what that means. We saw species you don't see in many other regions due to their adaptations to the arid environment - the gerenuk, a gazelle that stands on its hind feet to browse; Grevys zebra, with their unique territorial mating system, can't compete with the common zebra of the plains; and Beisa oryx, beautiful large horned antelope you don't see outside of dry lands. Also gorgeous, yet threatened, reticulated giraffe, the most Northern of the subspecies. Unfortunately, all the rhinos have been poached from this land - a testament to what will happen to other species if no one pays attention. Fortunately, there are amazing people working to make sure biodiversity survives in these seemingly inhospitable places. And we are there to support them.