Protect species, not trade.

Posted in Uncategorized by jengi2003 on April 15, 2013

So, with a whimper the 16th CITES (Convention for the International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora) Conference of Parties drew to a close. Although it brought hard fought successes for sharks and rays, rosewood and reptiles, there were notable absences of decisions about the trade in ivory, tiger parts and rhino horn.

During the CITES CoP delegates from 178 countries around the world come together with non-governmental organizations (NGO’s) to debate and negotiate trade agreements or bans for plants and animals with the hope that the worlds biodiversity will be protected for generations to come. With so many participants and interested parties there will always be disagreement as to the success or failure of the conference but as another year goes by with populations of endangered animals such as elephants and apes declining rapidly, the pressure is greater than ever before for CITES to take strict action.

The CITES convention is 40 years old this year. Historically CITES is an environmental convention not a trade one, with government delegates attending from departments of the environment, not the departments of trade. More and more however it seems the balance has shifted and the focus of the conference is on the continuation of trade, with countries attempting to be seen to be protecting species and global biodiversity, whilst still maintaining their exploitation of animals and plants for profit. The starting point of any discussion, certainly as far as the CITES secretariat and governmental delegates are concerned, seems to have become ‘how can we allow trade to continue’? This is in contrast to those delegates attending from wildlife charities and NGOs who would like the starting point to be ‘how can we better protect our valuable species’?

CITES is a United Nations convention and by its very nature negotiations involve politicians. Politicians are better at playing the high pressure game of politics than conservationists. Negotiations on behalf of those species that need our help to prevent extinction are therefore political, influenced by other concerns such as wider trade, relationships with other countries and economics. Decisions are made and agreements sought between countries behind the scenes that are not in the best interests of saving a species from extinction. This is letting down those species that need our help. National and international politics should not play a part in whether or not proposed trade restrictions succeed or fail. To compound this problem CITES ballots can be taken in secret so we rarely get to see who is voting with whom. A proposal was put forward this year to help CITES become more transparent, involving all votes being made public so we can all see what our governments are voting for on our behalf. The motion failed and, ironically, the ballot was held in secret. Following on from that failure Congo, Senegal and Chile announced they would unilaterally declare how they voted after each ballot, for which they should be congratulated.

But throughout this overtly political conference there was one elephant in the room, so to speak. The ‘C’ word…China.

A major success story of the conference came right at the beginning when the secretariat agreed to impose trade sanctions upon Guinea, West Africa. Recent investigations ( have shown that since 2007 Guinea has exported at least 104 chimpanzees and 10 gorillas to China. Exact figures are difficult to come by, but to complete these “successful transactions” it is estimated that an additional 1,200 apes will have been slaughtered as part of the procurement process. The apes were exported under so-called valid CITES permits, which declared that the apes had been bred in captivity in Guinea. There are no such breeding facilities in Guinea and Guinea doesn’t have a wild population of gorillas. These apes were taken from the wild and it is highly likely many of them came from diminishing ape populations in surrounding countries such as Cameroon, DRC or Cote d’Ivoire.

Chimps performing in a Chinese zoo

Chimps performing in a Chinese zoo

Chimpanzee playing the drums in a Chinese zoo

Chimpanzee playing the drums in a Chinese zoo

Photographs copyright Karl Ammann 2013

But there are two sides to this story and two countries involved, not just Guinea. Every single one of these chimps ended up in Chinese zoos or safari parks, some paraded in front of visitors playing musical instruments or riding bicycles, taking part in commercial performances for members of the public. The gorillas’ whereabouts are currently unknown but the CITES secretariat knows who imported them but is refusing to answer requests for that information. Before a CITES export permit can be issued there first must have been a pro forma import permit applied for through the Chinese CITES Management Authority. This can only be issued if “the specimen is not to be used for primarily commercial purposes and if the import will be for purposes that are not detrimental to the survival of the species”. Clearly these chimps are being exploited for commercial purposes and the current sorry plight of all the great apes is widely known. The Chinese CITES management authority is at the very least negligent, and at worst complicit of accepting large numbers of suspect CITES export permits. Yet while trade sanctions have rightfully been imposed on Guinea, a small West African country, no such sanctions or reprimand has been made of China. In fact the CITES secretariat gave China an award in May of last year commending them for their ‘level of success’ in combating wildlife crime. While there is an element of ‘carrot and stick’ to the two approaches, it seems wrong that the smaller and less influential country should suffer the indignity of trade sanctions while China, the global super power should be receiving awards while this illegal trade was taking place. Still, who needs tigers, elephants, chimps or sharks when you can suck up to China?

China is not just involved in the illegal ape trade. The country is mentioned in conservation report after conservation report whether it is apes, rhino horn, ivory, sharks or pangolin as being a massive consumer country for many of these illegal exports. The Elephant Trade Information System (, a group that tracks the trade in illegal ivory, has identified 8 nations, including China, that are major players in the trade. In 15 years no measures put in place to control this trade have had any effect. China, along with the other 7 nations, has been given yet more time to produce and implement action plans to curb this trade, whilst thousands of elephants are slaughtered annually. Last year between 25,000 and 30,000 elephants were killed for the ivory trade. That’s 68 – 82 elephants a day. Is even another single month of this slaughter really necessary when elephant populations have been at critically low levels for 15 years? The British comedian David Mitchell, talking about climate change and climate change denial puts it best: “You don’t say: I know you smell smoke, and we’re having difficulty breathing, and it’s hot in here, and your theory is the roof is on fire, but until we have proof, I’m not extinguishing my cigar”. The same is applicable for trade in endangered species. The smoke is there for all to see. Surely stopping the trade, all trade, in endangered species until we know for sure populations or habitats can cope is just plain old common sense?

CITES has the mechanisms and enforcement capabilities to provide enough incentive to pressurize countries to implement real change if they are bold enough to use them. These sanctions should be a threat to all countries, not just those politically “small” countries that can’t fight back. For many countries, to endure trade sanctions would involve losing valuable income from the use of their wildlife, with a huge impact on their economy. As Ofir Drori, an activist involved in wildlife law enforcement said in the preface to a recent report by The Great Ape Survival Project ( into the illicit trade in apes, “this trade now has little to do with poverty”. The global illegal wildlife trade is now generated by the rich and powerful.

CITES is a good, strong convention if it is interpreted within the spirit it was intended and not mistreated and abused. If we must trade wildlife then the world is a better place with CITES than without, but please, we must put animals and plants first, over and above the financial profit that can be made from exploiting them. Protect species not trade.


Tales from a very wet Mount Kenya

Posted in Uncategorized by jengi2003 on April 15, 2013

I was hoping that this blog post would be full of my safari adventures having had a few days booked to go up to Samburu National Reserve…alas, to my great disappointment I had to cancel for reasons outside of my control so I’m stuck here in Nanyuki for a little while longer. Still, after following the news of the cold and wintry weather in UK there are worse places to be stuck I suppose!

Perhaps a delay in my holiday is for the best, the rains have started here in earnest and it’s rare to not have a daily downpour. While it is never pleasant to get stuck in a watery deluge it’s fantastic to see Nanyuki getting greener again after everything being so dry and dusty. There’s blossom on the trees and the smell of rejuvenation in the mountain air in the hours after the rain. The chimps are less than pleased though! When it’s raining Mzee and Bili look miserable sat in their trees, dripping wet, blankets draped around them providing only a little protection from the elements. I try and warm them up by making them a bottle of fruit tea each which helps a little, and if I’m interpreting their grunts correctly they appreciate their hot drink!

I’m sure many of you will have been on tenterhooks since my last post, waiting desperately to hear of my quiz glory of a few weeks back. It didn’t go quite to plan – we peaked early in the evening, holding the glorious position of third at one stage. However as the alcohol flowed complacency had us in its vice–like grip and that, compounded by a strategic error in playing our joker (double points) too early, was our downfall. We ended up third…from bottom! Still, part of the prize for winning is to compile the next quiz and who wants to win more work hey?

The only downer on the evening was learning that another black rhino had been poached on Ol Pejeta conservancy, just a few miles away. Yet another tragic loss. A female called Upendo and sadly she leaves behind a 3 week old calf who is now going to have to be cared for by human care-givers. After a fire fight with game guards the 4 poachers got away, but a week or so later a poacher was killed in town and police found 3 AK47 rifles and an axe amongst other things. He’s suspected of having been one of the poachers who killed Upendo and took her horns, so 1 down 3 to go…

Bike riding chimps?
Bike riding chimps?
Chimp being taught to kick box                                                       A chimp being taught to kick-box

Speaking of work, we finally published the report we’ve been working on over the last few months. It’s not quite finished and it needs some redesigning before it goes to print (if we can scrape together the money) but any changes will be superficial and the essence of the investigation is there. The Conakry Connection is a report of our investigations into the illegal trade in apes between Guinea and China. It’s an ongoing investigation as we’re still trying to trace the ten missing gorillas but the link is there if you’re interested enough to take a look!

I’ve also written an article about the recent CITES conference in Bangkok and my thoughts on the outcome(s). I hawked it around a few newspapers and magazines and no one has picked it up so I thought I’d publish it following this post rather than it being consigned to the waste paper basket.

Until next time then, by which time I will have managed to get a few days away on safari!

Ttfn x

Comfortably Numb

Posted in Uncategorized by jengi2003 on March 15, 2013

It has been a busy few weeks since my last post. The election here passed peacefully despite the worry. Unfortunately because of the potential for trouble, many shops and services in Nairobi had closed for the week. So despite everything being business as usual in Nanyuki we did suffer from a few shortages in the supermarket and petrol stations. Uhuru Kenyatta was declared the outright winner and while Raila Odinga is contesting the result through the courts this is far better than having to wait for an election run-off in April and is more likely to be a face saving exercise than anything else. Still, Africa has a habit of blind-siding you when you least expect it which is one of the reasons I love this big red rock!

While Kenya was concerned about local elections I was more concerned with the discussions taking place at the CITES CoP in Bangkok. There was disappointing news for rhinos and elephants after our early success for illegally traded apes. There is still no ban on the international trade in ivory despite all the reports suggesting this trade is out of control and carried out by large international crime syndicates and there is still a so called ‘limited legal trade’ in rhino horn. In 2012, on average 82 elephants were killed every day and about 2 rhinos were killed each day. So far this year there have been 146 rhino deaths which has pushed the daily rate above 2 a day but this was still not deemed urgent enough for countries to come together and do something about it. This is to say nothing of the wildlife rangers who have been killed or seriously injured trying to protect these animals for peanuts, working in the field on a daily basis, not sat in a luxury conference facility in Bangkok.

As a bit of respite after a pretty depressing week I went out last Saturday evening to the Lily Pond Arts Centre (, a lovely art gallery-cum-cafe that sits on the equator (and a lily pond surprisingly). Little did I know what they had in store for us! After the bbq we were all cajoled and corralled towards the art gallery to participate in a Harlem Shake (yes, I had to look it up as well). Thankfully I managed to worm my way out of it with my skills behind the camera, or at least my ability to hold an iPhone steady…

 As you can see, great fun was had by all, although after seeing the performance live and a few times afterwards on YouTube, I’d say a few people were having a bit too much fun!

 Away from conservation or politics I had a pleasant surprise on Tuesday…the long-eared bat that had been roosting in my house made a welcome return. He had been missing since before Christmas and I feared the worst but Tuesday evening there he was, flying around my living room again.

Long eared bat

He’s not there every night and I don’t think he (or she I guess) has a very good sense of left and right. If he flies right he can leave through the open window into the night which is where I presume he wants to be, left is into the corridor towards my living room. Despite not knowing left from right his echolocation is still up to scratch as he hasn’t flown into me yet. However I was less enamored with the local wildlife yesterday morning when one of the Sykes monkeys opened my front door, ate my bananas, tipped over the rubbish bin and then as a little leaving gift crapped on my carpet on her way out!

Tonight I’m off to Cape Chestnut again for their quiz night and tapas. The quiz is always interesting and with team members from all over the world the questions have to have an international flavour but I’ll have a South African and a Swede in my team so fingers crossed…wish me luck!

Ttfn x 

We had a shock yesterday…it nearly rained…

Posted in Uncategorized by jengi2003 on March 4, 2013

Well, its election day here in Kenya and everybody is hoping for the democratic process to be a peaceful one after the trouble last time around. There has been a notable increase in anticipation around this normally sleepy farming town which has been filling up with people from surrounding villages arriving to vote. Many are clothed in their tribal attire which has been a wonderful spectacle and I particularly enjoy seeing the Samburu women, traditionally covered in their kaleidoscope of multicoloured beads – although the heavy earrings weighted to try and get their earlobes somewhere around their knees is a bit off putting! I’m taking the staff to vote in town later today so I’ll be able to see for myself what is going on. No-one is expecting any problems in this part of the country and we will only be affected if there is trouble elsewhere and the transport of goods is disrupted. I’ve made sure my jeep is full of petrol and my freezer is full of chilli con carne and curry, just in case!

Last week I was busy preparing for the opening of the CITES (the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora) Conference of Parties that started yesterday in Bangkok. Karl is there promoting our investigation into illegal ape trafficking from Guinea to China and the good news is that Guinea has been suspended from all trade in wildlife. Exactly the result we wanted and a fantastic start to the conference. I hope the remainder of the week brings further good news for elephants and rhinos. I’ve also been busy editing a revised script for Karl’s forthcoming film about the trade in rhino horn: The Hanoi Connection – On the trail of the rhino horn mafia. It’s being worked on by people across 3 different time zones which has been frustrating to say the least!

My friend Annie returned to Nanyuki on Thursday which is great news for my social life! I’ve known Annie for over 10 years as she used to run the Sweetwaters chimp sanctuary on the nearby Ol Pejeta conservancy. She’s been very busy running safaris across Kenya and Tanzania for the last few months but is now back home. I met up with her Thursday evening to catch up on all the gossip along with a few other friends of hers, one of whom I discovered to my delight runs the ‘Diani beach whisky club’…I think a trip to the coast for one of their meetings is a must in the coming months! Annie and I met up again yesterday for the traditional Sunday curry lunch at Cape Chestnut, a local restaurant run by two other good friends Alpana and Sophie. Alpana is a wonderful cook and her fortnightly curry lunches are always a treat although as usual I ate way too much! After a quick trip home to put the chimps to bed I was back out to a pre election party with more good food, wine and company. All in all a busy week working topped off with a busy weekend playing…just the way life should be!

ttfn x

Wait…what’s this…a new blog post from Nick??!?!?!

Posted in Uncategorized by jengi2003 on February 23, 2013

Well here’s a blast from the past…another blog! After a fairly disastrous effort last year with only three or four blog posts I’m going to try and do better this year. Although in my (admittedly very weak) defense  they were pretty big posts! After setting such high standards in quantity if not quality it all became a bit of a chore…it reminded me of homework to be honest and without a required signature in a homework log book and parents chasing me to get on with it, the whole blog idea fell by the wayside a little! So, to try and shake things up a little I’m going to try and make the posts shorter but much more regular. I’m going to turn it into a weekly challenge for myself and set a time limit of thirty minutes. Unlike Mastermind though I’m not going to be following the “I’ve started so I’ll finish” philosophy so if you read a post and it stops mid story then you’ll know my time limit was up!

I’ve been back a week now and just to put you dear readers off early on, its good to be back in the glorious Kenyan sunshine! That’s not to say I’m not missing home. It was awesome being back in UK and catching up with family and friends. Thanks to all who I pestered for nights out and drinks in and sorry to those who I missed…I’m not sure when I’ll be back next time but I’m going to try and make it when its a bit warmer over there! I very nearly walked straight out of arrivals and into departures when I got into Heathrow on a cold, snowy Friday morning. The main reason for being back in February was the birth of my nephew…Samuel William Cockayne. I’m now a very proud Uncle…woop! He’s absolutely gorgeous and didn’t seem to be doing too much crying when I was there so I hope that bodes well for the future Tom and Katie!

Sam a week or so after his birthday

Sam a week or so after his birthday

and a week later!

and a week later!

Both the chimps Bili and Mzee seemed pleased to see me back, particularly Bili who I think missed the company in the evenings. The Sykes monkeys that regularly visit my house and try and steal my fruit through any open windows have had lots of babies so its nice to see that the population is thriving. The elephants have not visited during daylight hours yet but they were around after dark last Thursday and it was fantastic to sit listening to them breaking branches and trumpeting to each other from no more than 50-60 meters away.

I had to hit the ground running when I got back as the report we had been working on investigating chimp smuggling from Guinea to China was nearing completion, ready to be distributed at the up and coming CITES CoP in Bangkok. I’ll post a link as soon as it has been released for public consumption. Its a pretty strong document and should hopefully mean Guinea is suspended from trading any live animals or plants until they sort their management of the animal & plant trade out.

I brought my bike back with me and despite a few jobsworths at the airport it managed to get here in one piece. It should be up and running when I get the suspension sorted out and I can’t wait to hit some of the Mount Kenya bike trails…lets hope the cycling regime lasts longer than the running one did!

So all in all settling back into it all nicely although it did take a bit of time. It was strange…I felt very comfortable at home, slipping back almost immediately into Bristol life with friends and family but I also missed my Kenya life, particularly when I was showing people my photographs. I met up with a friend at Nairobi airport for coffee when I got back and I made the same comment to her. Claudia has spent the last 10 years working as a vet in various countries all over sub saharan Africa and she said she understood what I meant…you feel as though you live in both worlds but belong to neither of them…and that sums up the feeling exactly.

Until next time…which hopefully won’t be too long!

ttfn x

Safari nose blow…the revenge!

Posted in Uncategorized by jengi2003 on May 17, 2012

This has been a long time coming, a lot longer than I intended but all good things and all that…

A few weeks ago after having worked pretty much non-stop since I arrived, I had my first opportunity to really ‘go bush’ and head out of Nanyuki. I only had four days to travel so I decided to head into Samburu territory. I threw a few clothes into my rucsac, grabbed field guides, a map, my binoculars and camera, and headed north in the early morning sun. As I left Mount Kenya conservancy, for the first time since I got here I had to slow down for a small herd of wildebeeste crossing the road in front of me…I hoped this was a good omen for seeing lots of game over the next few days! For the whole of the three hour journey I had the sunroof and windows of my jeep wide open and my ipod blasting out The Decemberists…it felt wonderful to be on my first adventure, driving along the recently tarmaced road looking out across the plains of Africa at acacia trees, enormous cacti and the occasional Kenyan village. It was a single road from Nanyuki, all the way to a town with a great colonial name…Archers Post, the last frontier town before the badlands of northern Kenya. I hung a left and spent the last few kilometers on a dusty, dirt track road to the entrance of Samburu National Reserve, made famous by George and Joy Adamson and of course Elsa the lioness. I managed to blag my way past the park rangers, saying I was a student doing research in Kenya so managed to get a reduced entrance fee before rolling on into the reserve!

I was staying on the banks of the Ewaso Ngiro river at a lodge called Elephant Bedroom, a few kilometers into the reserve and I was hoping it was going to live up to its name. Despite driving slowly I didn’t see any big game on my drive to the lodge until I rounded the last corner and there, just by the ‘car park’ was a huge female elephant waiting as if to personally greet me! I scrambled to grab my camera and started to take a few photos. I’d been shooting away for a few seconds when I noticed a guy in the car park in front of me, beckoning frantically for me to come in, and pointing behind me. I had no idea what he was saying, maybe I was blocking the road but I was reluctant to turn away from the beautiful pachyderm in front of me. When I did turn around to see what he was pointing at there was a huge cloud of dust heading straight for us! Deciding discretion was the better part of valour I drove the last few meters, past the elephant and into the car park of elephant bedroom. As I jumped out of my jeep I noticed that the wind had picked up and the dust really was beginning to blow viciously all around. The guy from the car park, plus a security guard came to help me with my bag and tripod and by the time I was locking the jeep up it really was difficult to see with the wind and dust whipping around us. As we ran for cover, old dry palm leaves were being blown off trees and we found shelter on the verandah of one of the lodges’ tents. The scene in front of me was chaos. As I looked around the restaurant tent entrance was flapping around and staff were desperately trying to tie it back down…I couldn’t believe how quickly the weather had changed! Things then became quite surreal as an elephant ran right across the front of us, quickly followed by the camp chef in full chef’s outfit, hat and all! A palm tree then blew over, crashing down just a few meters from where we were sheltering and it all suddenly began to look as though those wildebeeste first thing that morning were not a good omen but possibly the only wildlife I could be seeing on this trip! Thankfully though within an hour or so the wind dropped, the dust settled and as quickly as it started the bad weather faded and the sun returned in the sky.

I’d arrived at camp just in time for lunch. After being welcomed and checking in with Joseph the manager I decided from the menu what I wanted to eat and was escorted down to the bank of the river to my table. Over my (3 course!) lunch I saw my first giraffe! It was lumbering slowly along the bank on the other side of the river and it was a perfect view as I ate, all thoughts of the duststorm just an hour ago far from my mind. After lunch I wanted to get out and on the road as quickly as possible. I knew most of the larger animals around would be sheltering from the midday sun but I wanted to get out into the big open spaces and I was as interested in seeing as much birdlife as the reserve had to offer as I was the larger species. I went to my tent to collect my camera kit and then went to see if I could find a map of the reserve. It turns out there isn’t one! I wasn’t too confident to head out on my own without a map as there had been few signposts on the drive in. Just as I was about to leave one of the camp guides who had overheard my conversation asked if I wanted him to come with me. I wasn’t keen at first, I had pictured in my head being out there on my own driving through the bush but I decided I’d give him a try. Robert turned out to be fantastic company. Knowledgable, good at spotting wildlife but unobtrusive when I wanted just to sit and watch the natural world around me. I’d told him I was most interested in seeing a leopard as that was the last of the so called ‘Big Five’ that I’d never seen. They are the most elusive of the african cats but I knew Samburu offered a good opportunity of seeing one. We drove off along the bank of the river to see what we could see. It is only just the beginning of the dry season and it hadn’t rained in Samburu for a number of months. The riverbed was mostly dry mud and exposed rock but what little water there was offered us the best opportunity of seeing some wildlife. The first sight we came across was a large herd of elephants digging down with their trunks to find a little water. There were 30 or 40 of them, big and small. It was a magnificent sight to see such wonderful animals going about their daily business. I slammed the brakes on, creating a mini duststorm of my own and happily sat watching and snapping away with my camera. After a short while a small group of males wandered into view. A couple of them were very clearly after a good time(!) and as we sat there and watched them they started checking out the females to see if any were receptive to their amorous intentions! One female received particular attention so she was clearly on heat but was decidedly uninterested. To get away from the harrassment she made a break for it, left the group and climbed up the bank on my side of the river and ran into the bush. Two of the males, not to be put off followed her…the chase was on! They made a beeline in her direction which unfortunately for me was straight towards my jeep! It was an incredible feeling, to be sat there while two huge bull elephants passed within meters of where I was sat. They were so close I could easily see and smell the musky secretions from the scent glands behind their eyes. They barely noticed me, focussed solely on the female ahead of them. When they had passed I quickly tried to follow them eager to see if a mating would take place. I had to stick to the roads and while I was manoevering around they were able to get well ahead of me, not worrying about sticking to roads or any small bushes that got in their way. The younger of the two males quickly raced ahead and managed to reach the female before the other. There was no wooing or foreplay with this guy. He must have been aware time was of the essence and was straight up there and got on with the job in hand! As a biologist it was a breathtaking sight to see and I hope in 22 months time there is a new baby elephant wandering around Samburu. While I was sat there enjoying nature in all its glory I hadn’t noticed the other male, despondant at his loss of the chase had turned around and had started to move back towards me. Robert urged me to turn around and hurried me as I, still in awe at what I had just witnessed, hadn’t quite realised the intentions of the other male. Upset at his failure after getting himself all worked up he was looking for something to take his frustrations out on! Thankfully I managed to get the jeep started and turned around, and as I moved off the forlorn male lost interest…what an encounter!

It would only take a leopard sighting to match such an experience so early on in my game drive. We drove further along the riverbank slowly, enjoying the sights and searching diligently for signs of other big game. We came across a herd of Impala and Grant’s gazelle and saw several reticulated giraffe, but nothing lived up to the early excitement. The bird life was fantastic with plenty of red-billed hornbills, white headed buffalo weavers and my favourite, the white-bellied go away bird, so called after the sound that it makes. After such a long day out in the sun, I decided to follow his advice and slowly drove back into camp as the sun set, all leopards having eluded me.

After spending 3 hours driving through the dusty bush I went back to my tent for a shower. While I’d been away my tent had been prepared for the evening and the canvas sides all zipped up. Because of the elephants that were allowed to wander through camp I had to be accompanied to the dining area. Not wanting to startle anything that large in the dark, a shining torch into the sky like Thundercats was the signal to the guards that I was ready to go and eat!

I had a pre supper Tusker as an aperitif and it was fantastic to sit there, writing about my day by candlelight as the elephants crashed about all around me in the dark. There were only two other groups staying at the camp that night, a couple of families who I think were British army (there’s a large British army training camp in Nanyuki), and a young British couple, or at least I think they were a couple. Their table was close to mine and over supper and I was able to eavesdrop on their conversation. I don’t know if any of my readers are familiar with the very funny book “Are you Experienced?”about stereotypical travellers in India but this guy could have been straight from its pages! He sat there and droned on about all sorts of pseudo spiritual drivel while she sat there and said very little. I have no idea what was going through here head but if it was me I’d have been wishing it was a bullet! I went to bed early as I’d arranged an early wake up call for the following morning – 05.30, so I could be up and out and have my second game drive of the holiday before breakfast as the sun came up.

I was woken up by the aroma of fresh coffee outside my tent. The sun was just starting to rise and warm up the day. I climbed out of bed and unzipped the side of my tent. There on my balcony was a small cafetiere of coffee and a plate of oat biscuits – a perfect snack to hold off the hunger before my game drive. It was unbelievable to head out with the sun rising in front of me as the African savannah woke up. I think I beat most of the big game out of bed but I did see an Ostriche creche and a wonderful cloudscape over Lilokwe, Samburu’s very own table mountain. The highlight of the mornings drive was a Tawny eagle, perched in a tree watching me as I drove slowly past. By 9am my stomach was dictating the speed of events so I headed back to camp for a full english breakfast by the side of the river and a mug of well deserved tea. After such an early start and with the day heating up I had a lazy morning reading outside my tent. Allowing myself to doze off periodically. As much as I love the chimps, it was fantastic to be able to fully unwind away from Nanyuki. I saw Mr Are You Experienced and girlfriend packing up and leaving so she clearly hadn’t done any damage to him or herself during the night!

Lunch was an eclectic cultural mix of chinese and school dinners – peking duck for the main course followed by jam roly poly! It was still oppressively hot (the climate, not the jam roly poly) and I decided to cool off in the plunge pool outside my tent before going out for my late afternoon drive. As I sat in the refreshingly cool water the light dimmed and thunderclouds gathered overhead. As the first heavy raindrops fell on my tent it was strange to look out over the savannah on the other side of the river and see blue sky. Like all African storms, the rain got heavier and heavier with lightening and thunder rolling around the skies before slowly easing up. By mid afternoon it had stopped and I could see blue sky overhead once more. While I was sat enjoying a warming cup of tea before I went back out on safari, the chef came over and introduced himself to me. It seems both other groups that were staying at the camp had left that day. The chef had come over to ask me what I wanted to eat seeing as I was the only one there! It didn’t take me long to think about had to be steak in a pepper sauce and chips!

Knowing what I was going to be eating for supper put an extra spring in my step as I set off to see what I could see. Unfortunately I didn’t see very much! It seemed the rainstorm had put most of the wildlife off and they had all retired early! The river was now in full flow after the afternoon rain so the elephants had moved on and were nowhere to be seen. Just as the sun was setting and the clouds were gathering for another rainstorm, the unexpected happened. I caught a glimpse of my first ever leopard! He was lying down asleep in a tree and was well hidden but the half eaten Impala that dangled down in the lower part of the tree gave him away. The adrenaline was pumping as I sat there taking photograph after photograph. I could see his majestic, beautifully patterned body through the leaves. Aware he was being watched he slowly turned around and looked at me sleepily, shifting his body carefully on the branch that he was lying on. Something then disturbed him and he stretched himself and got up. In a magical moment my favourite big cat then climbed down the trunk of the tree, leaping the last few meters to the floor in front of me and then slinked off into the bush!!!! I moved the jeep around, hoping to catch sight of her emerging from the other side of the bush. Whether she had moved too quickly for me and had left already or was laying low, well hidden I wasn’t sure. Either way after sitting there for a while peering into the bush and seeing nothing, I decided to cut my losses and head home.

It was getting dark by the time I returned to camp. I showered and changed quickly, knowing a cold Tusker, a few glasses of wine and my steak and chimps waited for me to help me celebrate my first leopard sighting. Surprisingly, I wasn’t dining alone as I thought as there was a family eating as well. At first I assumed they were guests who had arrived on the off chance there would be tents free. It turned out they were not guests at all, but the owner and his family up for a few days from Nairobi. He introduced himself to me, asking whether I was enjoying my stay etc…and we got chatting. Once his family had retired to their tents for the night, he and I shared a few glasses of whisky and discussed everything from life in Kenya to African politics. By the time I got to bed at 23.00 with my head a little woozy I was satisfied that I’d had another memorable day in Samburu.

I wasn’t quite as early getting out of bed at the start of day 3 as I was the previous morning, the whisky having taken its toll! The coffee did its job and perked me up though, and I drove out at first light straight back to the spot where I’d spotted the leopard, to see if he’d returned after a succesful nights hunting. He was nowhere to be found but after driving around and cheating a little by asking another driver if they had seen anything, I finally managed to spot him, sat basking high up on a rock only just visible with binoculars. He was clearly not wanting to be disturbed by any muzungo tourists! My final days game drive did not yield anything as spectacular as the first two but for me that’s one of the joys of being in a natural reserve like Samburu compared to other, more managed private ranches…some days you will see something truly wonderful, others…meh! Even so I did see plenty of wildlife and managed to get some really good photographs of reticulated giraffe. I saw two of Africa’s most loved birds, the secretarybird and the go-away bird and caught sight of a Cape hare so the day could hardly be called a complete right off! Just to feel the freedom of the African plains with the sun close by overhead and losing myself in thought makes the day one of the better ones!

On my final morning in Samburu I had a lie in rather than going on one final game drive. I had a lazy breakfast and then went and saw all the staff to thank them for making my stay at Elephant Bedroom so wonderful. Julius one of the other guides asked me for a lift back to Nanyuki and I was happy to oblige him. He gets a free lift and I get company on the 3 hour drive back home! On our way out of the reserve I had my final wildlife surprise of the trip. Just close to the troad was a single male Grevy’s zebra. He had been left behind by the herd to keep watch over their territory while the rest escaped the rains. I didn’t manage to get a photograph but I was pleased that the first zebra I had seen on my trip was a rare Grevy’s. I felt sorry for him, left alone to do such an important job for the herd. I spent the journey south chatting to Julius about his life in Samburu and his work as a guide. He was on his way down to Nairobi for a refresher course on wildlife. The Kenya Wildlife Service offer qualifications with different grades for guides…bronze, silver and gold and Julius was due to take his exams this month. If he passes he will move from a bronze to a silver graded guide which means a better salary , more prestige and of course a better quality of guide for visiting tourists! When we got to Nanyuki I dropped him at the matatu park where he jumped on a bus for the last leg of his journey. I wished him well and made my own way home.

Spotted in Samburu

Reticulated giraffe, Leopard, Elephant, Dik-dik, Gerenuk, Impala, Waterbuck, Grants gazelle, Dwarf mongoose, Cape hare, Grevys zebra, Vervet monkey

Grey crowned crane, Grey heron, White-bellied go-away bird, Superb starling, Cattle egret, Fork tailed drongo, White headed buffalo weaver, Red billed hornbill, Yellow billed hornbill, Jacksons hornbill, Emerald dove, Yellow necked spurfowl, Vulturine guineafowl, Sand grouse, Ostrich, Kori bustard, Tawny eagle, Lilac breasted roller, Hadada ibis, White throated bee eaterl, Somali bee eater, Buff crested bustard, Secretary bird, Chanting goshawk

Nile crocodile, Leopard tortoise

think thats it!

Before I go I have to thank all the staff at Wildscreen because they bought me the wonderful East African bird guide as a leaving gift, without which I wouldn’t have had a clue about most of the birds I was looking at! x

I’ve uploaded a selection of photos to Flickr in a set called ‘Samburu 04 2012’

Speak to you all soon…xxx


Tusker and Toss…it’s good to be back!

Posted in Uncategorized by jengi2003 on April 8, 2012

Welcome back to those who can bear the second installment! A few of you have asked how you can keep up to date with new posts…if you look on the right handside of the blog then you will see a ‘Follow blog via email’ option. If you select this and enter your email address then you will receive an email whenever anything new happens with the blog…and at this rate I certainly won’t be clogging up your inbox!

Rather than upload any new photos to here as I did on the previous post, and then have to upload them to my flickr account, you can access flickr and all my photos from the link underneath the few photos displayed on the right hand side of the blog (ingeniously, the link is called ‘More photos’

Thank you to those of you who have signed up already and left comments, its always lovely to here from those back home!

I can’t quite believe it has now been nearly 2 months since I arrived in Kenya, it seems to have flown by. I seem to have settled in quite nicely though and have found my routine just about. So, as promised, who are the characters that will be central to my life for the next few years? Clearly Karl and Kathy (known as K&K from here on in) as they are 2 of the 4 other apes living on the property besides myself. Karl ( I’ve known for over 10 years and we first worked together when I was in Cameroon. I’d never really been in that much trouble before I met Karl, then I got involved in an investigation into illegal logging practises in Northen Congo and the next thing I know I’m being charged in absentia with industrial espionage in Congo and accused of being an agent of a foreign power…me!?!? I’m not an agent of anything, let alone anything powerful! Fingers crossed that doesn’t happen again…Kathy I’d only met once before, when I was visiting Karl here in 2002 but she is lovely and friendly and they’ve both made me feel very welcome. Kathy spends a lot of her time running the house – making sure the chimp food is bought, staff paid on time etc and has already been great source of support and advice for me on how to get by living around here…They’ve lived in Kenya for about 30 years so they know the country very well.

Since I arrived K&K have actually been away more than they have been here so I spend more of my time with Mzee and Bili than I do the other humans! Well, I spend less time with Bili than I do with Mzee as she is much more independent, as the hole I had in my hand testifies! Mzee however is very social and loves nothing more than a good game of chase around his enclosure. It’s certainly keeping me fit! We play fight together and and although it was a little disconcerting at first, I now trust him enough to put my hand in his mouth and pull his teeth from left to right, which he loves! He’s very gentle most of the time but does know to let go if I tell him to go easy! He also loves chewing my shoes but thankfully I bought a second hand pair and had the sense to buy a size bigger than my feet actually are. So when he grabs the end and bites down, my toes are a good few centimeters away! Thankfully, just like all chimps he loves grooming as well as his playtime so we also spend time just sitting peacefully together in the sunshine grooming each other and clearing bits of twigs and leaves from one others hair. He has a fondness for picking at my eyes which is a bit strange but there’s something magical about a chimpanzee looking so intently into my eyes and me back into his. He grabs each side of my head with his huge hands and moves it into the position he wants to and with his strength, believe me I don’t have a great deal of choice in the matter! When he gets bored of pulling me from one side of the enclosure to the other, he gestures with his hand that he wants a drink and that is my sign to leave him alone, go and fill his water up and make his bed ready for his evening meal. He has a few hours on his own which he mostly spends snoozing before getting into bed for the night. He gets lots of blankets and sleeping bags and makes his nest as I feed him his fruit, apple juice and a few sticks of beef jerky. He indicates lights out by pulling the sleeping bag over his head and ignoring me! That’s the thanks I get for peeling his bananas for him!

So my life has settled down into film editing on the rhino poaching film in the mornings and then playing with Mzee in the afternoons. There are certainly worse ways to earn a living! While K&K are away I get to drive into Nanyuki a couple of times a week to stock up on food and do my own shopping. I can get most things here that I could in the UK. Some things are more expensive…mushrooms and cheese, but others are much cheaper…mangoes and pineapples! Swings and roundabouts I guess. As I write this I’ve got a lasagne in the oven and I even baked a cake the other week…

I’m loving living in the tropics again with all the wildlife that brings, although an unexpected job a week last Monday was to clear a dead waterbuck from the path between my cottage and the main house. Not what I wanted on my first day after K&K had gone away! Something had attacked and killed it although Karl and I haven’t worked out what yet. The throat wasn’t touched so it was unlikely to be a leopard but we’re struggling to think what else it could be. Karl is bringing some camera traps back with him from this trip so we’ll set them up and I’ll keep you all posted! There was also an almighty rumpus close to my cottage last Sunday morning at about 6am. I could hear the baboons were going ballistic at something and there was some vocalising I didn’t recognise. Given Karl and I hadn’t worked out what the predator was yet, I was the antithesis of Bond and didn’t leave my compound to have a look see until it had all calmed down a good half an hour later!

Unlike Cameroon, Kenyans haven’t eaten everything that lives in the forest so there is plenty of ‘wild’ wildlife around. The most spectacular being the elephants . They don’t come every night but there is a herd that visits the waterhole about 80 meters away from my garden. Sometimes there are only a few of them but the other evening about 18 came down. I was enjoying a glass of wine with K&K and an american visitor from the Humane society at the time. That surely is what being on safari is all about…sitting drinking red wine as the African sun sets behind you watching elephants blow dust over each other! The rainy season is slowly starting so the ele’s should visit much more regularly over the next few months. They spend most of their time on the slopes of Mount Kenya but as the rains fall, it gets too cold for them and they spend more time closer to me!

A group of much more regular visitors are the sykes monkeys (this particular subspecies on Mt Kenya isn’t currently on ARKive so I can’t link to this spp.!). They are very cute but decidedly bold when it comes to entering the cottage and stealing my fruit! It was funny the first time but not being able to leave windows open is a bit annoying, although I imagine I won’t get too much sympathy for that! I also get Olive baboons which I must admit to having a bit of a soft spot for despite them being called the ‘rats of Africa’. A large troupe wanders through every few days, usually first thing in the morning. One of the more attractive primates around here are the Guereza, or black and white colobus , they spend less time around my house and more time around the main house but they have a beautiful white mantle around their black coats and long, thick bushy white tails. The subspecies that lives here on the mountain have not really been studied so a dutch primatologist I have met has suggested it could be an easy choice of subject to do some of my own research if I have the time. I’d love to, obviously, but Karl also wants me to get involved in a campaign that the local chimp sanctuary, Sweetwaters, are about to embark upon. There are hundreds of chimps being illegally exported each year from Central Africa…so Cameroon, CAR, Congo etc…, smuggled into Guinea and then shipped to Egypt to spend the rest of their miserable lives in bare enclosures in hotels in tourist areas such as Sharm El Sheik as ‘attractions’. The local CITES officials are either complicit in the operation or at the very least bribed to turn a blind eye. Sweetwaters have just increased their capacity and want to try to repatriate as many of these chimps as possible. As much as I’d love to undertake the research on the Mount Kenya colobus population, I can’t help but feel getting involved in the work with Sweetwaters is a more productive use of my time.

Week days are pretty busy but I do try and ease off the gas a little at the weekends. I still have to get up and out for 7am to give Mzee his breakfast and let Bili through into Mzee’s enclosure where they spend time together before she goes back to her own enclosure at 11. Once I’m up though it’s wonderful to sit outside with my book for half an hour before breakfast, and wrap the heat of the morning sun around me like a blanket…that’s if the baboons aren’t about. If they are then I will take my camera, tripod and a flask of tea down to the waterhole and try to get close enough for a few good snaps, always making sure there’s nothing bigger about!

My balcony struts out into the trees and I can almost pretend I’m living in a tree house…childhood dreams do come true after all! The bird life here is incredible, well, better than Horfield anyway. I get Marico sunbirds and grey herons, Cinnamon-chested bee-eaters and Abyssinian white eyes, as well as lots I haven’t been able to identify yet! There’s also a very attractive turaco called Hartlaub’s turaco but they have an annoying habit of perching too far away for a decent photograph. Bird watching is at its best when I’m sat on my balcony, binoculars to hand, rocking gently in my sun lounger! I can normally fill most of Saturday and Sunday this way.

I’m not missing a great deal from the UK, friends and family mainly, certainly not the weather! Can’t believe I’ve missed the UK’s second ‘crisis’ over petrol though…maybe there’s a connection between me leaving for Africa and the British worrying about fuel?!? I’m missing cycling into work everyday, I can get a bike out here but if I need to go into Nanuki town then I normally need a slightly larger carrying capacity than a bike provides, and I don’t think there’s a great deal of leisure cycling that goes on around here. Running around the enclosure with Mzee for half an hour every day provides a little exercise and I’m managing to get out a couple of times a week for a proper run. I only run to the entrance to the conservancy where I live and back but that still takes 40 minutes or so. I live at about 2000m above sea level and running at this altitude is much harder…that’s my excuse anyway! Karl warned me about running past the Bongo , a beautiful striped antelope that lives around here, as he said they have interpreted running as fleeing in the past, taken flight and injured runners. Karl has clearly never seen me run…I don’t think anything, man nor beast will look at me and interpret the speed I’m moving as fleeing from something! Running at dusk means I get to see the warthog foraging around most evenings. They aren’t one of natures lookers, but they always bring a smile to my face when they run away as I approach and their little wiry tails shoot up like an ariel from their behinds!

K&K have been away for 3 weeks so I’ve been holding down the fort. It has past mostly without incident although unfortunately I did have to take a member of their staff to hospital one Sunday night a few weeks back. Thankfully she is now at home recovering but when we arrived at the hospital it amused me greatly that the nurse on duty was sitting there reading a book entitled ‘A Course in Miracles’…only in Africa!

Well that brings me more or less up to date. I’ve had a mostly relaxing Easter although this morning I had to remove a couple of ticks from one of the dogs, Blossom. Ticks are one of my least favourite animals on the planet so I was very proud of myself removing them…although I did have to use a duster so there was a physical barrier between my skin and them! Unfortunately, because of the attention Blossom had received from me, Fleur the other dog who gets extremely jealous then went for her. So not only did Blossom have to go through the indignity of me removing the ticks and then spraying her with a purple antibiotic spray, but she then got attacked into the bargain! Luckily I had the tazer handy (this has happened before!) and all it takes is the sound of the tazer crackling to separate them…Fleur had only cause superficial damage but it did mean the purple spray had to come out again…I wish I’d waited until K&K got back on Tuesday after all that palava!

Happy Easter folks, until next time…xxx

PS – Almost forgot, my dear friend Ofir Drori has his first book published at the beginning of next month:

The Last Great Ape: A Journey Through Africa and a Fight for the Heart of the Continent

I’ve known Ofir for about 10 years and he’s one of the hardest working, nicest guys I know. He set up and runs an NGO in Cameroon supporting wildlife law enforcement. His ‘business’ model has been so succesful it has been replicated in a number of countries across the region. His life so far has been fascinating so this book is well worth a read when it comes out!


Karibisha to my Kenyan adventure…habari?

Posted in Uncategorized by jengi2003 on March 6, 2012

I hope whoever follows this blog will enjoy my musings, it may not start off that well as this is the first time I’ve ever done anything like this, but bear with me and we’ll go on this journey together. Hopefully as the days and posts go by, they’ll get more interesting and enjoyable to read. Apologies in advance to the pedants amongst you, please don’t criticise my grammar too much! Feel free to comment as much or as little as you like…I will always be interested to hear from family and friendsback home.

The flight over was pretty uneventful, I was sat next to a guy from Zimbabwe but there was a seat inbetween us so we could both spread out a little during the eight hour flight. Not that it helped much, I can never sleep on ‘planes so I was bleary eyed on my arrival in Nairobi. Africa still smells the same as it always has – a mixture of heat, sweat and dust, not necessarily in that order! We bypassed Nairobi and headed straight for the hills, or hill as it happens to be. My new home for the next few years in on the foothills of Mount Kenya, about 3 hours north of Nairobi. The drive there was pleasant enough once I’d manged to persuade the driver to slow down a little and not take both our lives into his hands and stop overtaking on blind corners!

Karl was there to greet me and we sat down to a traditional kenyan dish for my first meal in Africa – pepporoni pizza! As always with Karl we started talking about work straight away and he began by telling me about his latest filming trip to Laos and Vietnam and his film project on the trade in rhino horn. Rhino poaching has increased dramatically over the last 5 years as the Eastern market for rhino horn has increased. In 2007 poaching figures were 13 rhino, by 2011 they were 448. I’ve got quite a lot to learn and it’s enjoyable to be spending my time back in the thick of conservation issues once again.

Over the last two and a half weeks I have been slowly finding my feet. My house is fantastic, right on the edge of Mount Kenya National park. It is basic but adequate and sensitively decorated. It is filled with African artifacts so feels like home from home already! My balcony overlooks a salt lick that attracts elephants which is more than I dreamed of! They’ve only been to visit once though but with rainy season approaching they will visit more frequently with the cold slopes of the mountain too cool for them during the next few months. Ele’s are the largest visitors, but I also get olive baboons, sykes monkeys and black and white colobus. The colobus are particularly spectacular as Mount Kenya has its own subspecies that have much thicker coats and tails…beautiful to see jumping through the cedar trees around my balcony. The Sykes are much less welcome, as cute as they are, they’re adept at entering my house through open windows and stealing my fruit! I am currently banana-less for the next few days until I can get into town again!

Nanyuki is a smallish town but has plenty of passing tourist traffic as well as a British army base. Luckily though I live about 15k south of the town so manage to feel completely in the wilderness for most of my time. In fact Nanyuki town is just north of the equator and I live just south. It amuses me greatly that I can say I do my shopping in the northern hemisphere but live in the southern!

The first few weeks were pretty intense, getting to know the chimps, learn their routines and trying to find mine. We’re all getting there and next time I write (which will be more regularly now I’ve started, I promise!) I’ll tell you all about my day to day life, Mzee and Bili and old friends I’ve become reaquainted with. Hopefully by then I’ll have also discovered how to upload photos to the blog site…any experts on WordPress feel free to advise!

Our man in Nanyuki xxx

The first post

Posted in Uncategorized by jengi2003 on January 6, 2012

This is my first post on my new blog about my new adventure.