Mission accomplished! - almost

Stephen Quinn
December 10, 2010 share
Artists for Conservation

Dec 9th - Well, one would think we would be slowing our pace in preparation for our return trip but no so.
Jeff Whiting has a really exciting meeting this morning with the United Nations Environment Program here in Nairobi. We are hoping that, before long, Artists for Conservation Foundation might develop a working relationship with the UN.

After Jeff's meeting we headed out on the Mombasa /Nairobi highway traveling west, with the hope of making one last discovery. I had brought additional archival photos and information to, if we had time, possibly find or get close to the location of one more diorama background scene from the American Museum of Natural History's Akeley Hall of African Mammals. I had reviewed what I had brought and both, Guy and Murray felt confident we might, though our time was limited due to our departing flights this afternoon, find it. We were heading for the Lukenia Hills, the site for the Klipspringer Diorama on the Mezzanine in the African Hall.

The Klipspringer Diorama was the first site that Akeley hand picked and chose to visit on his AMNH expedition in 1926 and include as a diorama featuring Klipspringers (a small rock-climbing African antelope), Mountain Reedbuck, Olive Baboon and Rock Hyrax. I had heard that the site was covered with townhouses and devoid of wildlife and was anxious to see if this was true. Murray knew the roads and how to get there. Even when off in the distance I could see the pink rocks that characterize the scene back in New York. As we approached, though there were farms, a cement production plant, and a sprawling flower farm nearby, I was relieved to see that there was no apparent development up on the hills themselves.

Murray pulled off road and got us into a promising angle but, I felt, Akeley and his Expedition artists, William R. Leigh and Arthur Janson, would likely have gone to the top to survey the view and selected the painting site from there. With our limited time we couldn't afford to take the time to hike up there. I was hoping we might find out if there might be a road up there with a GPS just as Guy mentioned he knew the family who owns the land that surrounds these hills and the family was present in the area at the turn of the century. While we stood among the acacias, Guy called the owner on his cell phone and got him. The owner verified that we were, indeed, close to the site and there was  a dirt trail up top that would get us closer. We took off in the direction of the upper road. Not to far along the trail, we came to a prim, well-kept school house and Murray ran inside to get better directions. Murray and the Principal came out carrying a large art print by Simon Combes of African Elephants, The principal was thrilled that Simon Combes' son was here and was anxious to meet him. She was thrilled to meet Guy and Guy was very humbled which facilitated our discussions for locating the diorama site. She welcomed us to go wherever we choose and gave us more directions to reach the hill top trail. We rumbled on a short while when suddenly Jeff shouted, "Stop" and identified a small antelope among the rocks and boulders. Sure enough, it was a beautiful little Klipspringer! They ARE still here and have survived! A little farther down the trail we had a pair of magnificent Vereux's Eagles, a splendid big black Eagle that is found around rock Kopjes. The area seemed wilder than I thought it might be. As we drove up the trail the top of the hill plateaued off to an open plain. Here we found Masai Giraffe, Kongoni (Hartebeest), Eland, Ostrich, and Thompson's Gazelle. There was still wildlife here and we were only 20 miles outside of Nairobi. It all felt good.

We drove all the way to the end of the trail and then followed a footpath out to the top of the promontory. There the scene that is depicted in the Klipspringer Diorama spreads out into the distance. The hills themselves looked much more overgrown than in the photos, which made me wonder if there were one or two herbivore no longer present (Cape Buffalo, Mountain Reed Buck, or Rhino that would have kept it cropped and closer to the ground. Now the hills seemed chocked with small trees and woody shrubs that made it difficult to climb around and gain access to the exact site, but we were VERY close and it's definitely there where we were. As I hiked the main rocky trails I imagined walking with Akeley and artists Leigh and Arthur Janson as they walked these same hills and selected the ideal vista. It was a short-lived thrill though as Guy found a Puff Adder among the rocks and found fresh leopard tracks nearby. He suggested we take the photos we needed, there wasn't enough time for a sketch, and get back to the landcruiser and start heading for the  airport as the afternoon was waning, the rocks were cooling and we were in prime puff-adder habitat. Jeff and I took our reference shots, celebrated getting as close as we could to the exact site, and promised to come back to locate it exactly and revisit other AMNH diorama sites in the near future!!! We stopped at a roadside bar for a couple of cold beers before heading off in the dark for Nairobi International Airport.


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