Tuesday, March 8, 2011


Though this has likely been the case earlier this week, it's an interesting feeling to know for a certainty that somewhere nearby in the darkness is a large, sharp-toothed carnivore that could kill and eat you if it really wanted to.

We've made it to Serena camp, which was of course not a sure thing. After morning obs (during which we again saw about 30 hyenas traveling together, though this time less excitedly and without a clear purpose), we struggled to get one of the cars working. Both cars need to be working so that we can go to Nairobi while Brian stays at Talek to keep performing obs. Various contingency plans are formed while we finish up inventory, packing, saying goodbye to Joseph and Benson (the cooks/ assistants) and Joseph's daughter Gloria, etc. Brian drives the car (that they manage to start by towing) to the mechanic 30 minutes away, only to remember that it is Sunday and he is not there. Eventually, we come up with a plan whereby Tracy, Skeist and I bring our stuff, pick up Brian (leaving the car there to get fixed), and drive to Serena.

The drive is beautiful; leaving the border of the Maasai lands and the lodges relatively near Talek camp makes us feel even more isolated. There is some rainfall in the distance; we see a lone bull elephant, a crowned something (crane?) which I have only seen in zoos, and eventually make it to Serena.

Serena camp has a totally different feel from Talek camp. It's only 3 years old, compared to Talek's 22 years, which explains why all the tents seem nice and new. But the layout is also different; it's on a bit of a hill, overlooking a valley through some trees. We wanted to make it there in time for evening obs, but didn't quite succeed; instead, we left camp around 6 with Meg (the research assistant at Serena). Tracy, Brian, and I were in the back in benches that faced each other; we had a bit of a party. Meg took us to the hyena dens of one of the clans she had been studying. We had yet to see any hyena cubs, as the dens of Tracy's clans were either inaccessible, hidden, or in an unknown location. I could describe how adorable they are, but the hundreds of pictures I took will help. They basically act like puppies, running around, tussling with each other, and curiously approaching our car (one of them came up, then decided to explore underneath the car). It was hard to resist jumping out and petting them.

Just to say we did, Brian, Tracy and I tossed a disc for about a minute; we eventually headed back to camp when it got too dark. Meg's cooks/ camp assistants are as good cooks as those at Tracy's camp, so the food was delicious.

Normally this is when I would explain how tired I am, but since I'm actually writing this the day after Serena, there is more. The sharp-toothed carnivore to which I referred was a leopard; there is apparently one that lives around Serena camp. I awoke sometime in the early morning hours to hear a sound that sounded like a combination of a car trying to start and wood being sawed (I will try to find a sound clip online). This is called "chuffing," and it's the sound the leopard makes (I'm unclear why). I laid in my very thin-walled tent, enjoying the sound of this giant cat somewhere nearby. So we never saw a leopard (in the wild), but at least we heard one. (One of the camp assistants confirmed that there had been one around that night; I had thought that it was a leopard based on Meg's description of their chuffing, but was glad to have it confirmed).

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