Wednesday, September 15, 2010

lions & leopards & bandits. Oh my!!

Submitted by Camille Yabut on 12 September, 2010

Alright, I admit it, I'm not the best at keeping current on these blog things. To make it up to you, I've got 3 entries coming up in quick succession. There's been a lot of craziness going on, so yes, it'll probably take at least that many entries to catch you up.

First things first, I'll tackle all the (relatively) recent camp and Mara excitement in this post. Top of the list? Bandits! About a month and a half ago there was a shooting here in the Mara Triangle. Some bandits attacked one of the tent camps, robbed the tourists, and then shot three of them. Two of the victims had to be airlifted to a hospital in the city, and the last one died too soon for medical attention (someone told me that one was shot in the head, but I don't know if this is true). The bandits ran away on foot, and a huge manhunt was organized to find them. The Conservancy put most of their rangers on it, plus poacher sniffing dogs and the local police!

The tent camp was pretty far away from our camp, and we're located very close to the Conservancy headquarters and ranger barracks, so we felt pretty safe. Unfortunately, one of my hyena clans has a territory that reaches all the way up to that area, so we had to restrict evening obs for a while. We were asked to avoid being out after dark until the shooters were found, for our own safety. The Conservancy also offered to station a ranger at our camp until they caught the shooters, but honestly I feel more antsy when there are strangers in camp, so I declined.

Anyway, at the time we had been having elephants in camp every night what better bodyguards could you have than a herd of elephants? They'd trample anyone who came close AND you can't take them down with a few measly bullets. The downside to this was that we spent several mornings in a row trapped in our tents because the elephants would forget to leave, but all in all it seemed a fair trade.

They eventually caught one of the bad guys, persuaded him to talk, and I think they caught the leader based on the info they got. I find myself speculating as to the methods used to make him talk, but mostly I think, "Good riddance!" One of the victims was a 70-year-old man who was just celebrating his birthday with some friends. Bastards.

Next up, more lions! (And why is it that I have so many stories about lions?! I'm a freaking HYENA researcher. Maybe if I pretend like I'm studying lions, I'll see more hyenas?) Before I came to the Mara, there was apparently lioness who decided to take up residence in the Serena Lodge compound and raise her 2 little cubs there (Serena Lodge is the closest lodge to Hyena Camp, only about 5 minutes away). In the process, she went and got herself completely acclimated to humans -- she's absolutely not intimidated at all.

She disappeared for a little while, only to turn up again last month.... in the middle of Hyena Camp. Oh dear.

I was in Nairobi at the time, so I missed the really exciting bits where she strolled through camp in the middle of the day, but read the post by Andy Booms here to get the full story.

By the time I got back to camp she was still hanging around (one day she decided to take a nap up by the choo/toilet, WTF?! We need that!) but mostly I just bumped into her skulking around the edge of the thicket that our camp is in, whenever we'd leave camp for obs.

She's disappeared again now, but I'll keep you posted on whether she comes back again.

And to close off this post, the last bit of camp fun I'll leave you with is: leopards! It's usually really hard to spot leopards out here. They're ridiculously shy, plus they're nocturnal, so you'll pretty much only see one by sheer luck. We at Fisi Camp don't actually have a problem finding leopards though, and that's because the leopards really prefer finding us. They just have to take a stroll straight through the middle of camp, every night.

They usually start at my end of camp, come up by the lab tent, stroll past the kitchen tent, meander up by the cars, and then end their jaunt by walking past the staff's tents. While on their walks, they like to bat at the edges of our tarps, shred helpless tea towels, and sneak up to tents where people are innocently sleeping and then VOCALIZE REALLY LOUDLY. Ok, to be fair I hadn't actually fallen asleep yet, but I was close! Also the leopard got so close to my tent that I could actually hear his paws as he stepped on the grass and leaves -- and if you know how quiet cats are while walking, then you know how flipping close that had to have been. I'm still a little bit pissed about that whole deal, but then it's hard for me to be charitable when something scares the living daylights out of me.

So, that wraps up the recent in-camp adventures.

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