Kenya Races After Its Wildlife

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After winning the finals of the 800 metres at the Rio Olympics, David Rudisha, or King David as he is affectionately referred to in Kenya, lifted his hands to the high heavens. He didn’t smile just yet. But his eyes were surreal.

It’s as if they were saying, ‘did I just win my second consecutive Olympic Gold medal?’ He had. And in so doing he was in the elite company of legendary Kenyan athletes like Naftali Temu, the first Kenyan to win an Olympic Gold in the 1968 Mexico City Olympics and Kipchoge Keino, the first Kenyan to win gold in two consecutive Olympics.

It’s no wonder Paul Gathitu, the jolly Kenya Wildlife Service Spokesman told me when I visited his office that, “when you talk about Kenya, what seems to really arouse interest is athletes and wildlife.” One can tell from the ever present twinkle in Paul’s eyes that he is truly passionate about wildlife.

Even Winston Churchill couldn’t avoid the wonders of Kenya’s wildlife. At the turn of the century, he visited Kenya and later wrote of this experience in his book, My African Journey: “Presently our guide began to tell us of the strange creatures who live in the forest, and are sometimes seen quite close by the fuel cutters – very rare antelope, enormous buffaloes, and astonishing birds and butterflies beyond imagination.”

Indeed, Kenya’s wildlife is beyond imagination.

Consider the lion. The King himself. The number of lions in Kenya has dwindled by a third in the last decade. If you live in Nairobi, you may not know this when you encounter two lions in the morning traffic jam along Lang’ata Road, a busy road that is adjacent to Nairobi National Park. This happened in January 2013 just before 7AM in the morning and images of the lions lounging by the road went viral.

Back in 2002, the Kenya Wildlife Service reported that there were 2,749 lions in Kenya. This number dropped to 2,280 in 2004 and plummeted even further to 2,000 in 2009. But despite their declining numbers, Kenya’s lions continue to wander majestically in the country’s national parks, game reserves and wildlife conservancies.

IUCN has listed lions as vulnerable, meaning that they face “a high risk of extinction in the wild.” This reality both saddens and galvanizes conservationists.  

Although Africa has some 1 million square kilometres of lion habitat, these royal specie is increasingly under attack from climate change and human wildlife conflict amongst others. Also in similar predicament are other wild cats that roam Kenya’s hallowed wildlife terrain. One of these cats is the cheetah, the fastest of them all and a favourite of Usain Bolt, the fastest man ever. When he visited Kenya at the height of his career, he adopted a cheetah and in so doing, the fastest animal found the embrace of the fastest man. Usain was however and by no means the only global superstar to be attracted to Kenya’s wildlife.

Paul Gathitu, the Kenya Wildlife Service Spokesman talks of those who came before Bolt, “if you look at history, you will have seen, the kings, King George the sixth, you will have seen President Roosevelt, coming to East Africa, and mainly to do Safari, and mainly to look at wildlife.”

Teddy Roosevelt, the 26th US President arrived in Kenya via Mombasa and proceeded to savour Kenya’s inimitable wildlife with his characteristic gusto. After the trip, he wrote ‘African Game Trails,’ a book that vividly captured his safari adventures. 

Talking about the dazzle of Kenya’s wildlife, President Roosevelt wrote, “Indeed, no such railway journey can be taken on any other line, on any other land. At one time, we passed a herd of a dozen or so of great giraffes, cows and calves cantering along through the open woods a couple of a hundred yards to the right of the train. Again, still closer, four waterbuck cows their big ears thrown forward, stared at us without moving until we had passed.”

A few years later when Winston Churchill followed Roosevelt’s footsteps and arrived in Kenya, he fell in love with the wildlife. He later observed in the earlier mentioned book, My African Journey, “our train is climbing through dense and beautiful forests to the summit of the Mau Escarpment. Admiration of the wealth and splendour of the leafy kingdom is mingled with something very like awe at its aggressive fertility. The great trees overhang the line.”

Indeed, the wealth and splendour that Churchill observed more than a century ago are still very much a part of Kenya especially as seen through its wildlife. Tragically, most of the great trees that wowed him and ‘overhang the line’ have long since been felled. We may not be able to go back to that pristine state, but we can definitely work diligently to spread our forest cover by leaps and bounds.

Although those great trees have since fallen silent, the lions still roar and birds still chirp. Together with other wildlife, they can be seen in the more than twenty National Parks around the country, more than a dozen National Reserves plus numerous Conservancies and Sanctuaries.

Check into Kenya’s South Rift region and the Hells Gate National Park will prove to be sheer heaven. Where else can you walk, cycle or drive in a vast natural wilderness full of gorges, rocky outcrops, extinct volcanoes and hot springs? These are the sights that greet the gazelles and other wildlife that roam in the rugged terrain of Hells Gate day in, day out.

As a matter of fact, wherever you go in Kenya, you are bound to find a wildlife refuge that will give you a dose of the amazement that President Roosevelt, Prime Minister Churchill, Usain Bolt and millions of others have felt over the centuries whenever they encountered the wild world wonders of Kenya.

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Published in Wildlife

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