ravings, rantings and ramblings
Benjamin greeted us on our second day with his trademark big smile. Wife and I were all ready, after a hearty Hilton breakfast. And we started our trip to explore Nairobi city. First stop – Nairobi National Park.
The drive to NNP was a study of contrasts. The suburbia ran on my right and thick greens to my left. We entered the national park and decided to visit the animal orphanage. We could hear excited shrieks of children as they saw animals they probably saw in their story books. I was screaming too, in my head.
Two disinterested warthogs lazed in mud. A bird-cage to the right housed an agitated bird like a cassowary. I was looking for cats here. We went about walking. Met an impala foal. Another species of inquisitive deer who put his head out to smell my wife’s fingers. And then we saw a huge enclosure with two giant tree stubs. And on top of those stubs were sleeping, two young lionesses.
Almost camouflaged, those cats were sleeping like angels. I tried a lion call (after ensuring that nobody could see me making an ass of myself) but they clearly didn’t respond to it. I felt like a colossal failure as a voice artist. I resorted to clicking photos instead. The enclosure next housed a solitary lioness, who dozed beside a bone that was licked clean. And a rag doll. The placard explained that the lioness is very possessive about the doll and plays with it by vigorously shaking it. Sweet. She looked once at me with disdain and then went back to doing what she liked more than shaking her rag doll, and that as to doze off. Oh well, since the lionesses werent paying much attention, I shifted to somebody who was constantly seeking it.
A giant spotted hyena kept sprinting up and down the length of its fence. Up close and a couple of feet away, it looked uglier than on TV. Scavengers, pack hunters, fearless, societal and dogged – all added up as virtues for this species as opposed to not being good-looking. A placard on the fence detailed out everything.
All animals in this orphanage were rescued from the wild. Some came in when they were kids and just about managed to open their eyes; others, later. What stage were the animals brought to the orphanage would depend whether they would be able to make it back to the wild. That is the sad truth. Some animals would die in the orphanage and some would be sent back to the wild. After the trip to Nakuru National Park, seeing these animals in captivity was not a pleasant sight at all, more so for my wife.
I squatted for 10 long minutes in front of two full-grown cheetahs. They were playful. Their eyes transfixed on something as they gamboled and strode up and down their fence. A leopard lounged on a ‘machan’ by a tree and his fence rose all the way up to the tree neck. Leopards are master climbers and masters of stealth as well. We walked left and saw an ostrich doing its funny dance with its plumes waving wildly like a cheerleader. Another pair of lion-lioness slept close together. We bumped into an attendant who told us that they had started mating and were ‘seeing’ each other. So they stayed close to each other. The female took note of us but the male slept blissfully. He did not even twitch a whisker as we chattered away with the attendant.
Every fence had a different story. The next fence had three young lion cubs. The card on their fence told us that those three along with a leopard cub and a buffalo calf were rescued together. Since they had gotten used to one another, they all stayed together. Old photos had the 5 looking inseparable. We could only see the lion cubs, thankfully far more active than the adults. One was noisily gnawing on a bone, the other sat under a wooden table and played with his bowl of water and the third sat in the shade looking at his brothers. When he saw that the other two were having a good game with the bone, he jauntily bounced off his table and came to wrestle with them. We saw a Japanese girl walk into the fence!!! She walked in as confidently as we walk in home after office, without the lights on. She dropped her bucket and said something aloud to herself, I presumed. The cubs perked up seeing her enter. She came close the two, who had stopped wrestling. She picked up the bone and set the water bowl right, all the while scolding the cubs in chaste Japanese. Kenyan cubs being scolded in Japanese!!! It was a sight. Missus asked her if the cubs understood her language. That she did not understand and went back to talking to the trio.
We came out of the orphanage, as I planned my retirement years here. Students and other animal lovers can seek part-time employment and work at the orphanage. That included playing with cheetah cubs, cleaning lion crap and jumping into the Nile crocodile fence to clean the water. Not sure about the last part, but I was ready to do the rest.
We were now headed out of the orphanage gate as we drove to the David Sheldrick Elephant Orphanage. This was another huge tourist attraction. Baby elephants, rescued from various places in Kenya and around were kept there in safe and sound environ. The orphanage is part of the Nairobi National Park and runs on tourists fees and donations apart from enthusiasts who have dedicated their lives to wildlife conservation. Gates open at 11 in the morning when these baby elephants are given and bath and then they are brought to a special enclosure where they are fed milk in front of cooing and cawing tourists.
Gates opened and we walked in straight to the open air enclosure. The African sun beat down on us harshly till the time some kind cloud gave us some cover as we waited for the baby pachyderms to grace us all with their visit. After sometime, this baby elephant train comes plodding by, all disciplined, most trunks holding the others’ tail, following their caretaker. They looked so cute from the moment they appeared on the scene, that they won everybody’s hearts instantly. Women gushed, kids sitting on their fathers’ shoulders squealed in excitement and men grinned as these babies came into the enclosure and headed straight for their feeding bottles.
The youngest in this lot of elephants was a riot. He was funny and got the most attention of all his brothers in the herd. In fact, it was touching to see the big brothers come and check on him from time to time. There was one particular baby elephant who played to the gallery. He would stand with his trunk folded over his head and would nod his head occasionally like some Elvis Presley impersonator. We all touched and patted them. A baby girl, presumably all of 3 years particularly wanted to touch the babies and my girl wanted to see and touch their flapping ears. With all baby elephants taking turns to say ‘hello; to us all, we all got our fair share and more of patting the lovely babies and playing with their ears even as they playfully pushed us tourists and their caretakers alike. The youngest saw all his brother and sisters drink from the tub but he wanted to do something that would stand out. And so, he decided to cool his tail off.
After they left, another group came by for their feed. One of them was disinterested in making a public appearance and wanted to slink away. The caretaker had to lure him by giving him a football to play. One kick later, he was seen rolling about in the mud, then blowing air bubbles in a tub of water and finally chasing a family of warthogs as they walked past.
That done we trooped out and made our way back to the car. Our last stop now – the giraffe manor! We knew that this is where the long necks from the wild come close to you and you can feed them. That sounded exciting as giraffes are rather shy and reclusive and getting them up-close and personal is quite a thing. Benjamin drove us through picturesque neighbourhoods as we came away from the national park and entered a small tourist village. A 2-storey ‘machan’ or scaffolding serves us humans the right height for feeding these endangered Rothschild Giraffes. We headed straight for the top. We collected the giraffe fodder that looked like strange pieces of lavender coloured chalk. As we two came close to the balcony, our hungry romeos came straight towards us. They were so much fun! If you hold their snack in your palm, their long and purple, UV protected tongues sweep it off your hands and leave their sticky saliva. Younger ones who do not yet reach the veranda open their mouths and you may please feed them! If one gets too involved in laughing and making merry and striking a pose, the giraffes head-butt you to remind that they need to be fed and that is all that there is. Those giant and gentle beasts are truly magnificent! Such a wonderful artwork – they are almost like live canvasses. After I clicked away at my wife who bonded really well with one particularly hungry one, it was my turn to feed them. The sensation of their tongues sliding on my palm was very unique. Though I prefer the tip on an elephant’s trunk scooping out food from a palm. What was funny was that after you pop in the snack in their mouth or they slurp it off, they quickly move away! I so wanted to pat them but then I had to remind myself that those are giraffes and not dogs.
After feeding the giraffes, we fed ourselves in a picture-postcard heritage village after shopping for Masai knick-knacks. As I sipped my Tusker beer and my wife wistfully looked at the overcast sky sipping her passion fruit, we knew that our Kenyan caper was coming to an end. It was one of the best holidays we ever had. We had truly fallen in love.