Animal Sightings of Note, Lately:
Hippos (kiboko) at the hippo pools (predictably, but it never gets old).
At least 20 or 25 elephants on the road back from the hippo pools = ndovu mwingi (many elephants) (according to Google, this is called a ‘parade’ of elephants)
- Mama ndovu was not happy about a land cruiser full of people trying to get through the road, ostensibly between her and her little one. (Related: the little ndovu was SOOO CUUUUTE.) She nudged him off to the side with her trunk, then turned to face us squarely, resolute and unmoving, with her ears out wide. This was more than a little unnerving, since I was sitting in the open back of the land cruiser, but frankly it was more awesome than anything else. All the other elephants were scattered around us, anywhere from 20 to 50m away. Finally, after Doug revved the engine at her a few times, she reluctantly ceded the road. We roared by them after that. She seemed like the only one actually miffed at our presence. Though, elephants can be really unpredictable and I try to make sure I never get too complacent around them (even while egging Doug on to get closer so I could get a better shot with my camera).
Two species of widowbird
- These bird-dudes are dark in color, and sport long (half a meter, for the long-tailed), trailing feathers on their tails. From a distance, you can see them flying low (about 2 meters) above the savanna, dipping slightly with each flap, their tails fanning out below and behind them like a train. It’s quite beautiful, but then as you observe them you can’t help but wonder…don’t those tails look a bit risky, survival-wise?
- Answer: yes. The tails of the male widowbird are a prime example of evolution (if evolution had the agency to choose) weighing the benefits of sexually attractive features versus the disadvantages to survival posed by possessing said features. Think peacock tails, or the plumage of birds of paradise, or rhinoceros beetles’ horns, or lions’ manes. In this case, it’s the difference between getting more tail (ha) from female birds (by attracting them with their long and luscious tails) but putting themselves at risk of predation, and surviving for longer (because they don’t have a big bumbling tail to deal with) but not attracting any mates with whom to produce offspring. What a choice.
- Interpretation: nature is cruel. Also, it is possible to be too attractive. Some might say, dangerously attractive. Perhaps these birds are prone to fatal attraction. (I’ll stop.)
- So why the name? These birds are called ‘widowbirds’ because of the preponderance of young, attractive males who die from predation as a result of being too easy to see and catch, thanks to their tails.
- Lesson #1: always pay attention.
- Lesson #2: when you spy a spotted hyena bounding across the road ahead of you on your run after work, sprint to go tell your friends IMMEDIATELY because that’s awesome. Also, maybe tell somebody else. Like an askari (guard). They’ll probably want to know that there’s a hyena inside the fence.
- Lesson #3: when they tell you that, in your excitement, you missed seeing a huge bull elephant grazing by the electric fence next to the road (to my mom: the other side of the fence), you will be forced to refer back to Lesson #1.
- Moral of the story: seeing a hyena for the first time in daylight is really exciting. Also, they are…large.
- Kudu are one of my favorite species in Kenya. They have striking, twirling horns, giant ears that fan out like a hare’s, thin white stripes that run down their sides, and the females I’ve seen have pale circles dotting their cheeks like rouge. They are huge, regal, and lovely. That’s why I was particularly excited to drive by a family of four down by the hippo pools on Tuesday. The male was standing under an acacia tree, and when we slowed to a crawl next to him (something like 5 meters away) so we could take photos, he raised his head high, rotated his ears outward, and posed. Well, he didn’t ‘pose’. But it certainly looked like he was posing, and we took full advantage. The Mrs. and their two offspring were under the next tree over, and barely looked up from their browsing to watch us drive by.
There’s your update on cool and weird animals from the field in Kenya. I’ll post more as soon as it stops raining and we can get back out on the roads! Usiku mwema (goodnight).