Mt Kenya

This is the second half of that family letter from Mt. Kenya.

We’re on the second half our safari now, at the Mt. Kenya Safari Club in Nanyuki, 7,000 feet up the slopes of Mt. Kenya, which is 17,000 feet high.  Yesterday morning I stood, jacket on, outside my room, 75 feet north of the equator, looking up at snow. Snow in the equator.  The equator runs through the bar.  The dining room is in the Northern Hemisphere, reception, the gift shop, and services are South of the line.  The Safari Club was started by the actor William Holden and counts as its former members Winston Churchill and Lyndon Johnson.  Now it’s run by Fairmount Hotels, the successor to Canadian Pacific, which may explain afternoon tea similar to that at the Empress in Victoria and the fireplaces in each room with fires laid to fend off the equatorial chill. You can also hear geese but the management assures me they are Egyptian and not Canadian.

The drive to Nanyuki goes through an African countryside far more prosperous than that in South Sudan. Jon told me I could point out similarities to Suzi to South Sudan, and while there are some, this country is decades ahead of where I’ve just been.  One striking difference is the bright colors. Juban women wear bright colors, Kenyan woman even brighter, and the shop fronts of the stores in the “African strip malls.” that are so common are dazzlingly bright, like Tirana, painted in corporate colors, sponsored by the company. There is a Coca Cola red (including an evangelical church and a small grocery), Nuru Sunshine Soap yellow (a fixit shop and a café), Safari Com green, (a mobile phone charging station), and Bic yellow (a butchery and a fruit stand.)  Of course there are all sorts of outdoor markets, stalls and food stands, but even these look better organized, cleaner and better stocked than anything in South Sudan.


At Mt, Kenya we have easy access to the Ol Pejeta Conservancy and the Mt. Kenya National Park. It is here that we saw our celebrity sponsored animal centers.  The Jane Goodall sponsored Sweetwaters Chimp center rescues chimps from the bush meat trade, people who keep them as pets until they are too big and strong to handle, and war. There are no chimps native to Kenya.  The center is here because of war in Burundi. The chimps are refugees with better conditions than human refugee camps. There are two troupes of chimps, one more habituated to people and, across a river, less habituated.


The William Holden Foundation operates an animal orphanage, which, like the Raptor Center in Sitka, takes in animals and rehabilitates them to go back into the wild. Well not all of them. For a while someone bread zebras with horses to create a strong pack animal suited for Africa. The animals, like mules, do not breed, and the cross was not that successful, so the last of these animals, now very old, is also resident at the orphanage.  There are three circles. The inner circle has animals that need treatment, are pregnant or young.  The second ring has larger fenced fields to help habituate the animals to living in the wild.  The third area is a thousand acre habitat, the third step before the animals are released into Mt. Kenya National Park. Like the raptor center there are animals that cannot be released and are used for training and there is a training program for wildlife students.  The orphanage is not completely safe.  Leopards can get into all but the inner ring, which is shy newborns are kept there for a while.  Leopards are not the only predator that gets in. The orphanage’s two rhinos were shot by poachers for their horns.  When the poachers tried to cross the fence an alarm went off and the poachers never got the rhino horn, but the rhinos were just as dead.

Which is why, at the third animal rescue center we visited, which breeds rhinos to reintroduce to Kenya (The number has gone from the tens of thousands to under 500) trims the horns off its rhinos.  They are no longer appealing to poachers.  Clipping Rhino horn is not a job I would want.  My cats are bad enough. The warden says that the horns are like fingernails and will grow back.  There is some talk, I am not sure how serious, of legalizing the rhino horn trade and underselling the poachers with horn harvested from this and similar centers.  The warden was happy yesterday, when we were there.  They had a newborn Rhino that morning, and some of the other rhinos, returned to Africa from zoos in Europe, were copulating. In fact the warden pulled out his cell phone and happily showed us a video of humping rhinos. (The fact that the black Rhino copulates for about an hour is the source of the myth that rhino horn is the organic Viagra.)

So we spent some time at these centers, but more exploring the Ol Pejta Conservatory and Mt. Kenya National Park, where last evening at dusk, we saw an albino zebra. Still no Lion, although we saw leopard tracks.

The afternoon rain is slowing. The Kikuyu dancers are warming up with their “Jambo Bwana” (Welcome Boss) song to greet the new arrivals, some conference of development workers no doubt, so I will put down my computer and go look for some Baboons or Colibus Monkey, They are within walking distance.

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