The Star (Nairobi)

9 February 2013

Kenya: When the Dust Finally Settles - Part One

I had woken up early to start my game drive before the torturous heat of the Tsavo region inconvenienced our outing. It was getting to 9am and the heat was starting to hurt. I wanted to drive back to the lodge. I was reluctant since we had not seen a soul during the three hours we had been driving through the bushes of Tsavo East National Park.

I thought of putting on the AC in the van then discovered that it could not be effective with the roof of the van open. So we decided to sweat it out in the bush for one more hour and return to the cool comfort of the lodge.

The additional hour we gave ourselves did not bear fruits. We drove back to the lodge at 10am. The sun was already so hot that the clients had to simply stay in their rooms and run the air conditioning units at full blast. I did not want to go to my room.

I chose to stay by the poolside and enjoy the breeze and the sound of music coming from a nearby acacia tree which was swarming with the southern masked weavers busy weaving their nests. The lodge staff were good enough to allow me to have a cold drink at the pool bar, although the bar was closed for service.

As I sipped my drink and scanned the endless plains before me, I noticed something unfamiliar, so far away. I had to use binoculars to see clearly. It was dust. A cloud of red dust was forming in the distance, making devilish curves and meandering like a giant snake from hell. It got me interested immediately because the line of dust seemed to head directly towards the lodge.

I quickly grabbed my camera, which has a more powerful zoom than the binoculars. When I focused on the approaching cloud of dust, I saw huge silhouettes of elephants completely swallowed into the red dust.

There were so many of them that their movement looked like a river slowly flowing towards where I stood. Since we had been in the bush the whole morning and had not seen anything, I saw it necessary to rush to the clients' rooms and call them. As I turned my face away from the view of the dust cloud, something else caught my eyes.

On my left and unseen till now, was another huge cloud of dust. This was even closer to the lodge than the one I had been watching. I did not need the binoculars or the camera, to see the hundreds of buffalos also heading towards the lodge. This group was mixed with small counts of gazelles and zebras and other smaller grazers pulling the rear.

The excitement was overwhelming. I had to call my clients. Suddenly, I felt a hand on my shoulder. I turned around to find the owner of the friendly hand. It was one of my clients. In my excitement, I had failed to watch my back. My clients had seen the spectacle building in the distance from the balcony of their rooms and came down to the pool side to see better and probably get some shots.

All the animals arrived at the waterhole almost at the same time. Then the commotion started. Elephants wanted to dominate the waterhole. The bull buffaloes would not allow themselves to play second fiddle. The elephants had the size, but the buffaloes had the numbers. None would give in.

Though there was enough water for all, they still fought so hard for control of the resource. While the elephants used their trunks to siphon the water even from the deep end of the hole, the buffaloes had to literally enter into the waterhole, drink from within and then lay themselves in the water to cool and wallow.

This infuriated the elephants. Regardless of their sizes, the juvenile elephants who were agile enough also dipped themselves in the water, displacing most of it that flowed out into the shallow end of the hole. This was the blessing that the small animals, which had now increased in number, were waiting for. The left overs.

Watching the political scenes playing at the moment all around the country, I could not help to draw parallels to what I was watching here. A different forest, same animals. Different trees but the same monkeys.

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