Lake Elementaita

Stephen Quinn
December 9, 2010 share
Artists for Conservation

Dec 3rd Upon waking and arriving at the breakfast table on the veranda, in the morning sunlight, the reality of being on the African plains struck home. Standing on the veranda, a view of overwhelming beauty stretched on forever with gleaming Lake Elementiata in the distance. I felt like I was back in New York standing before the "Plains" diorama. A Pleistocene landscape lay spread out before me in which herds of big mammals grazed and wandered.
This was the place where in 1909, both Teddy Roosevelt , leading a collecting expedition for the Smithsonian Institution, and Carl Akeley , leading an expedition for the American Museum would pass. Later, Akeley and Roosevelt would rondevous nearby and collect African Elephants together. The same specimens that one can still see standing in the center of Akeley's African Hall in New York. If it were not for the Delemere family and their dedication to maintaining their land as a wildlife conservancy, the entire region would likely look very different today.

Both Jeff Whiting and I were honored to meet the Lord and Lady Delemere and both were very much aware of Akeley and Roosevelt's visits to Soysambu. They were very supportive of our efforts to relocate Akeley's grave and find the historic site of the Mountain Gorilla diorama in New York. They celebrated our success with us. I was honored and charmed by our meeting with the Lord and Lady. As I was a bit scruffty and still had muddy boots and pants from camping in the Congo, I can only hope I didn't offend and do hope they were equally charmed by us.

Our morning including a hot air balloon voyage over Lake Elementaita and it's surrounding wild lands with the eastern escarpment of the Great Rift as a constant backdrop. The region was spectacular from above and the lake shimmered below in the early morning light. From above one could easily see the hundreds of African White Pelicans, Greater Flamingo, Lesser Flamingo and African Spoonbills that nest on and feed in the lake. From the balloon we also witnessed one of Soysambu's most prized denizens - herds of Rothschild's Giraffe. It is the tallest and rarest of the three giraffe species and Soysambu possesses the highest concentration of the animals anywhere in Africa. A total of 70 animals!!!  Most certainly, if it not for Soysambu the Rothschild's giraffe would be closer  to slipping into extinction. Here at the Conservancy, they are being assured of the protection they require and are actively being studied by grad students and post docs station at the Soysambu Study and Education Center.

Back at our rooms we experienced the luxury of a hot shower provided by an odd regional appliance called a kuni booster. "Kuni" in Swahili means wood and these odd boiler tanks use wood to heat the shower water.  I don't think you'll find many kuni boosters available in the States.Hot showers are one of the greatest of life's pleasures, especially id you haven't had one in over a week! 

After the hot shower, Guy introduced us to another unique Africanism. The "Sundowner". As guy describes it, there are no bars in the vast regions , so in the evening you jump in your landrover with a bottle of whiskey and find your way to a beautiful place to watch the sun go down. Guy had choosen a place that was his Dad's favorite campsite and also the place where Guy always celebrated his birthdays as a child. It was beautiful. A camp in the middle of a giant euphorbia forest over looking the lake. I couldn't resist pulling out my paints and easel and doing a quick sketch. The infuence of the whiskey gave it a Jackson Pollick sort of feel. I highly recommend the whole tradition of the African "Sundowner" however it only works in open country where there are no roads or other motorists for miles, as after a few drinks on the plains, you can just get back in your landrover and drive off into the vast plains without endangering anyone, unless you hit a rhino or drive off a cliff!

Back at the ranch we had a wonderful dinner and interviewed Kat on all her many efforts in protecting and managing the Conservancy. But the day wasn't over yet.

Later that night Guy and Murray took us out for a night game drive to see some of the regions nocturnal inhabitants. Jackel and Hyeana eyes glowed in the headlights, herds of  zebra and gazelles made way as the light penetrated the darkness and we drove through and among the inhabitants of the open grasslands. The whiskey during our earlier sundowner certainly infuenced the evening night drive as it eventually disintegrated into a rowdy sort of "snipe hunt" involving a nocturna bird called a "Dikkop" in Africanns. The common name of the bird is Spotted Thicknee, a nocturnal plover-like bird with large eyes like a night heron, and the Combes cousins prided themselves in, when one of these birds showed up in the headlights, leaving the truck, and sneeking as close as they could to the bird without harming or touching it! It was a remarkable regional "sport", with Guy winning by creeping up as close as six inches from the bird before it flew. Awesome!!! The cousins behavior was so infectious that they inspired and convinced me to try and run down a Springhare, an odd nocturnal rabbit-like creature that leaps like a kangaroo. I guess this was yet another local pastime on the African velt. As they explained one must sprint across the African plains following the glowing eyes of the retreating Springhare in the trucks head lights, which is speeding behind the runner in hot pursuit. The goal is to catch the animal unharmed, kiss it on the head, and set it free. The stage was set. A Springhare suddenly appeared leaping in the headlights. I lept from the truck and into the darkness , running like mad after the Springhares bouncing orange glowing eyes. I must say he was almost in reach when my foot went down into an Aardvark hole and sprawled me out flat!  All I could hear was my conrads howling with laughter back in the truck. When I got up and turned to get back in the truck - there was the springhare!  He had stopped went I fell , waiting and taunting me to try again. It was a beautiful little creature about the size of a large rabbit with fawn colored fur , long ears, long tail that waved tauntingly when it leapt, and immense eyes that glowed orange in the trucks lights. I was not ready to give up. I jumped to my feet and resumed the chase. Closer, closer, the Springhares orange eyes bouncing just out of reach when, damn!, another aardvark hole. This time I looked up and saw the springhares orange eyes bouncing away in victory. I decided to lick my wounds, act my age, and climb back in the truck for another beer.

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