A Buzz in the Air

First of all, apologies for the lack of blog entires these past few weeks: I’ve got so much on my plate at the moment, and blogging sadly just doesn’t seem to make it to the top of the list very often!

Nonetheless, there has been a lot of positive talk about AEFF on the net recently, which goes to show that more and more people are hearing about our educational film work and are interested in becoming involved with and supporting AEFF’s mission. Here are a few tasters of what is being said:

The Mara Conservancy has been reporting on screenings of AEFF’s film, Natural Security in the Dupoto Forest, where elders from the community who saw the film requested for it to be replayed so that they could round up all the children and other community members to watch it, a clear indication of the importance they attached to the messages conveyed in the film. You can read more about it and see photos of the outdoor film showing here:


You can watch a video of AEFF’s Simon Trevor filming scenes of a dead lion in a poachers’ camp and interviewing the rangers who caught the perpetrators in the Mara here:


I have also been busy with interview requests these past few weeks. Here I am on Babelgum TV, discussing the importance of film as an educational tool for conservation:


Safaritalk is a vibrant online forum for lovers of Africa and her wildlife. I recently conducted an interactive interview with members of this forum, resulting in a wide-ranging discussion covering a wide spectrum of African conservation and travel issues. Read the full interview here:


More publicity for AEFF was gained from my interview with ExpatWomen, which you can read here:


Thanks to Matt Wilkinson, founder of Safaritalk, who kindly put in the time to create our profile, AEFF is now on Facebook – please come and join our network:

Not just pretty pictures…

It occurred to me, as I was posting my previous entries here, how easy it is to enjoy the pretty pictures of all the incredible wildlife that surrounds the AEFF headquarters, and our home, here in the Tsavo region of Kenya. It struck me that it might be easy to forget sometimes that our work here has a very serious and critical mission, for the natural wonders which surround us are every day are being threatened across the continent – indeed across the world. Everything we enjoy today, could be gone tomorrow…

For example, while the river below our house is a daily delight to behold with all its wildlife dramas unfolding before our eyes (and yours through this blog), take a look at these images taken from AEFF’s films which show what is happening to the environment not so far away from here, and in many other parts of Africa…


Here’s what’s happening in many of the great forests around the world. It begs the question: What happens when all our natural resources are stretched beyond all endurance?


What happens to the people when all the trees are cut down?


What happens to cattle and other domestic livestock when there’s no grass left to eat?


What happens to the wildlife when there’s no water left?

This is why AEFF makes films: to show people what is happening to their environment (both positively and negatively) and, through showing successful working examples and highlighting role models in the environmental field, illustrating how people really can improve their livelihoods by adopting environmentally sustainable ventures.

And does education through film really work?

To answer that question, I’d like to quote from a report sent to us by one of our key distribution partners, Amara Conservation (a US non profit working alongside AEFF in Kenya, who using their mobile cinemas show our films to over 100,000 children and adults each year). It’s quite a long account, but please do read it if you can, for I think it clearly demonstrates the very real effects our films are having in the rural areas of East Africa, as well as highlighting the important role played by our distribution partners in disseminating our films far and wide:

“…We have shown films all over Kenya but mostly focused our work on the borders of the Tsavo National Parks. We focus here for several reasons including the remoteness of the populated areas and therefore the need for the information, the significance of the habitat for wildlife, and the infrastructure that is in place in the communities whereby most people belong to groups of various kinds and therefore have the ability to come together to institute changes. These changes can only occur if people want to make them, and through your educational films, we have clearly seen changes in the minds of many.

These are manifested in many different ways. Indeed, if we didn’t see these changes occurring, we would not show the films!

What has happened in our areas of key focus in the Taita Hills region (an area of highest human wildlife conflict in Kenya according to the Kenya Wildlife Service) is that people are now asking to be helped to make the changes that they now see as important. They are living rather marginal lives eking a living growing traditional crops of maize, cowpeas and holding minimal livestock, mostly goats and sheep. The area is very arid and the soil is not conducive to farming – the people have only moved into the area in the last 60 years due to population growth. They are now seeing that the agricultural practices they are maintaining are actually causing damage to the land, that the bushmeat they consume is destructive and not sustainable, and they want to make changes.

This has come to be because we have shown films repeatedly, in several communities/schools/churches/market centres around the area. Over time, people have come to know that when the Amara Land Rover arrives it means “CINEMA” and they all come. They are taking in the information in the films in a very real way.

In some key areas, specifically the Group Ranches of Mbulia, Kishushe, Maungu, Sagalla, and Mugeno – the people are now looking to form wildlife sanctuaries on their land. For Mbulia and Kishushe this is very critical – as each ranch is in a key elephant migration route/seasonal feeding ground, and outsiders before have approached each to lease land and make sanctuaries/put up camps or lodges – yet they have always refused. NOW, they are actively seeking to make these sanctuaries a reality as they know the benefits to them in terms of financial gain and more importantly – they now want to stop the destructive practices they have been engaging in for years.

The fact that these communities who live on the border of the biggest Park in East Africa, with the highest level of human elephant conflict – have formed committees, lobbied amongst their members, made trips to view their areas for tourism, attended workshops to learn about running sustainable group projects – this has come to be because of what was learned in the AEFF films, combined with the meetings and discussions that we have held in conjunction with those films.

There are innumerable instances when I have seen eyes wide opened, people from 5 to 80 years of age really beginning to understand the role that humans play in the larger environment, even beyond the village boundaries where they may not ever have traveled, and the evidence of which can only be shown through the medium of film. Once they learn about how the animals live, how the trees and water are intertwined, once they SEE THIS – it’s not just ‘film’, but the AEFF films in particular…

Lori Bergemann

Executive Director – Amara Conservation

One of our distribution partners sets up the screen for a film-showing at Maungu Town in rural Kenya

The Amara Conservation mobile cinema screen is erected on the side of their specially adapted Land Rover, ready for the screening of one of AEFF’s educational films.

Love is in the air…

It must be! For it’s not just the geese who are breeding – it’s the Plovers too, and the Hornbills, and even the Squirrels!

For those of you who read my Wilderness Diary, do you remember our Spur-winged Plover Stories from last year? There was the family two kilometers upriver, which we followed for three weeks (remember the heart-ache when the river flooded and took with it “our” three-week old chicks, who had so bravely withstood all challenges up to that point?), and then there was the pair much closer to home, which we could see from the balcony – probably the very same pair who are nesting again now – who last time lost their eggs to another flood. When (if ever) will these plovers learn not to nest in the river bed where any rise in the water levels threatens their offspring? This pair have not learned any lessons, for wait until you hear where they have nested this time!



I only managed to spot the nest because I noticed one plover foraging on its own below the house (normally you always see them in pairs) and then I heard their mating call…this made me actively seek out the nest with binoculars from the vantage point of our balcony…and eventually I found it, up to the left of the house, right where the grass is starting to come through, attracting all manner of grazing animals with hooves that could destroy those precious eggs with one misplaced step. There is no cover whatsoever for the nest – what on earth made them build it there? The parent birds have merely scraped out a small depression, collected together a few sticks and stones, and there the mother has laid three perfect eggs.




Perfectly camouflaged eggs

Now, of course, not having noticed it straight away, I cannot say precisely when the eggs were laid, but – coincidentally – I was looking through some of my photos from before I went to Nairobi – I had been photographing various animals grazing on the newly-grassed sandbank, and there in one of the photos of an Egyptian Goose is the plover, already sitting on its nest! So we now know the birds were already sitting on their eggs then (that was 30th May), so they must be hatching soon….?


This is the photo where by chance I noticed the plover sitting on its eggs (see the far left hand side of the picture)

What’s unusual about this pair of nesting plovers, is their “quiet approach” to potential intruders. As you’ll remember, most plover parents are noisy and boisterous in the extreme, in order to drive potential nest-raiders or wreckers away…but this pair seem to be adopting another approach: merely hunkering down and staying firmly put atop their nest, no matter who or what passes by.




Having said that, occasionally they do get a little nervy and revert to type, emitting their high-pitched chit-chit alarm call and trying to goad the intruder away by “shamming” – pretending they are sitting down on their nest, but in fact are just leading the enemy astray.

Recent daytime passers-by the nest include impala (frequently, including our beautiful young One-Horn and his friend), the Egyptian Geese, Waterbuck and the Hadada Ibis. We’ve also been seeing the tracks of a small leopard on the beach, but hopefully it will leave the plovers in peace.

In all the images below, if you look carefully, you can see the plover crouching low on its nest…also note the Oxpeckers on the back of the young Impala…






Further down the beach is another pair of plovers, and these are boisterous in the extreme – perhaps they are nesting too? This morning I watched them dive-bombing a troop of vervet monkeys, who did not seem the least concerned, much to the plover’s consternation.

By the way, as I write this, the full moon is flowing in through my office window…so beautiful… I don’t know when I’m actually going to be able to post this, as we’re having problems with our internet connection and only getting about five minutes access to the net every 24 hours…very frustrating, as so much of our work is internet-dependent, as is this blog of course… Living in the middle of nowhere certainly has many advantages, but when your internet is down, you are completely isolated…



Anyway, back to the story…yes, love must be in the air for it’s not just the Spur-winged Plovers who are feeling broody – the petite Treble-banded Plovers are at it too. The other day, as I was down at the beach photographing their bigger cousins, I happened to catch a glimpse of the little guys mating. The Spur-winged Plovers did not take kindly to that, and immediately chased the Treble-banded Plovers away (how ridiculous is that, I ask you? They’re about a third of the Spur-winged Plovers’ size and no threat to man nor beast…unless you’re a worm, I suppose!)

The Pied Kingfishers were also having a go, but way across the river where I could only get a poor shot of them in flagrante. The Von der Decken Hornbills are courting too (below), and so are the Sparrows!



Even the Unstriped Ground Squirrels are getting up close and personal. I notice they’ve been digging a huge network of burrows behind the house. It’s all going on here, you know! As an aside, take a closer look at the Ground Squirrels – don’t you think they are just so perfectly adapted for camouflage in the red Tsavo dust? Their mottled fur practically blends into the background.



As for the Rock Hyraxes, it seems like they have led the way in the love stakes. Here are a couple of very cute little babies as proof, emerging from our woodpile to warm themselves in the morning sun…



I saw the Dwarf Mongooses again today – their youngsters (which we saw being carried by their nannies back on the 24th May are now big enough to run along with the band themselves, but they’re still quite small and baby-faced. Unfortunately, they had dashed across the road and disappeared into the undergrowth before I had a chance to photograph them.


I took this shot of our road home, just to show you how dry the landscape is becoming inland. Where this photo was taken is only three or four hundred yards from the river’s edge. No wonder a lot of the animals are moving back to the river at the moment…despite the cold, grey, very windy weather, and the temptation of rain clouds which never fall, the country really is getting very dry. The long rains which are meant to fall April through June, have not been good this year.

The big one-horned Impala ram is still at the helm of his harem – we seem them all daily down on the beach.

I went back up to the old Hammerkop nest but could see no sign of the female goose in the nest…either she was hunkering down, or she is not nesting there…the mystery continues…

(It’s almost midnight, so I’m off to bed now – but at least I’ve caught up on a lot my posts which I wrote while our internet was down…a few more to go, and I’ll be up to date again…)

Wild Goose Chase

As you can see, now that we have our internet connection back again, I’m posting like a mad woman, trying to catch up on all the stories I wrote while we were out of touch!

Not long before we went to Nairobi (on the 31st May, to be exact) I was happily photographing the female Egyptian Goose taking a wash in one of the pools by the river’s edge, when the male goose suddenly approached her, making a real racket and looking like he was up to something. Without the slightest provocation, he reached over and bit the female on the neck. Hang on! I thought, what’s going on here? The next minute, he was on top of her, and they were mating. What a rough mating ritual indeed! I’ll let the sequence of photos speak for itself. It amused me how, once the job was done, the male puffed himself up and was so obviously pleased with himself. And the female? Well, she just returned calmly to her bathing…







I was lucky to be in the right place at the right time to witness this, for the geese had been courting for a while, the male hovering around the female at all times, making a lot of noise and flapping his wings, as if trying to impress her. (She didn’t strike me as being all that impressed, mind you.)

Since they mated, the female goose has been disappearing for long stretches at a time, leaving the male alone to graze on the new grass growing so green and lush on the sandbank….so it is safe to assume she is on the nest – but where? The day I saw the geese mating, I went up to the dam (weir) on the small Mtito River at the top of our property, where the two old hammerkop nests are (which the geese and the hammerkops have both been using on and off for years. Those of you who follow my Wilderness Diary may remember me talking about them last November (when I obviously did not have time to post photos…) Well, several things have changed since my last visit to the site: one of the old doum palms has fallen down, taking the older hammerkop nest with it. The newer hammerkop nest looks in ship-shape condition – in fact, the nest hole has been widened which suggests it is being prepared for use…perhaps by the geese? I must go up there again as soon as I can to see if the goose is sitting…if she’s not there, well then, I know not where she is! (In this description, I am assuming that the female goose is the one sitting – for in reality, both sexes look the same, but judging by the behaviour of the one left behind on the river, I think he’s the male.)



Spare some pity for the tiny goslings, whose first task in life will be to leap from the nest (above), which is more than twenty feet off the ground, and land on a dry barren riverbed (the Mtito River is dry at this time of year), before walking a full kilometre on their tiny legs to the Athi River where they will thankfully find water and food. Fortunately for the goslings, nature designed them to bounce so – somehow – they survive this leap into the unknown, which is just the very first of many perils they will have to face before they reach adulthood. Despite the best efforts of their aggressive parents, the tiny goslings are much in demand from eagles and any other small predator which would make an easy mouthful of them…



Talking of aggression, the male goose has become aggression personified since he mated. Any other goose that appears within or even near his territory (which seems to be a stretch of river about 800-1000 yards long, to the left and right of our house) gets treated to a ferocious chase and merciless assault if caught.



The other day I watched as “our” male goose chased down a pair of geese that had appeared further downstream. Somehow he caught up with them (they had taken off the minute they saw him take off, but somehow he found the speed to catch them even though they had 200 yards head start) and launched himself at the other male, sending him crashing headlong into the river. This in turn startled a big crocodile who was dozing at the river’s edge, sending him crashing into the river too…you certainly can’t accuse the lone male goose of not taking care of his own!



Whenever the female rejoins the male on the river bank (normally late evening and early morning), it’s always a dramatic affair with lots of quacking and flapping of wings and posturing. In fact, in the early morning, I see the two geese flying from the direction of the old hammerkop nest, over the top of our house and back to the Athi River, so I wonder whether the male roosts alongside the female in the nest?

Re-visit the story of our Egyptian Geese when they had their last clutch of goslings in September 2007…

Kuruwitu: Between a Rock and a Hard Place

As you know from previous updates, “Kuruwitu: Between a Rock and a Hard Place” is one of the films we are currently producing under the Inspiration series. (If you would like to refresh your memory about this project, you can read my earlier entries here and here.)

To follow is Simon Trevor’s latest field report, describing progress on the Kuruwitu project (don’t miss the photo-story which follows his account, showing the extraordinary success of the No Fishing Zone in rehabilitating Kuruwitu’s marine environment):

Our film work at Kuruwitu could go on forever, for there are so many exciting changes taking place, and I have no doubt this will carry on for years. However, we shall obviously have to close the first chapter of this story soon. We can’t go on forever – even if we would like to!

We are waiting for it to stop raining at the coast so that Lesley [Kenyan camerawoman working with AEFF] can record the latest increase in fish numbers. This will enable us to show the great changes that have taken place since we first started filming here, just after the local fishing community had declared this area a No Fishing Zone in order to provide a safe fish breeding ground and to allow the fish stocks to recover.


Lesley Hannah, cold and exhausted after another successful dive. Lesley is holding one of AEFF’s cameras in a special underwater housing which has enabled her to get such amazing footage of the changes taking place beneath the waves at Kuruwitu.

Before we sign off on this film, we also feel we should include the arrival of the glass bottomed boats, which have been financed by a grant from the Community Environment Facility (under the Community Development Trust Fund, a joint EU-Kenya Government initiative). This will be such a momentous occasion, for it signals the beginning of new lives for the fishermen who will no longer have to rely on fishing for their livelihoods. We just hope that the tourist trade in Kenya will remain stable.

To our delight, another community very close to Kuruwitu has already declared another No Fishing Zone in their area, and we were there to film the official opening. This time the coastal Director of Fisheries presided over the event and there has been great support from other government officials, especially the local government chiefs. In fact, the local officials were so excited that they were being filmed and their good intentions recorded, that they have since been imploring us to return to film their fish.

Although this area, known as Bureni, is only a couple of kilometers from Kuruwitu, upon seeing Lesley’s latest underwater footage from there, I immediately noticed that the corals were of a different type and even the fish species were different. Of course both the coral and the fish were badly depleted but we now know that it will only be a matter of time before this area too will recover, just like Kuruwitu – provided the community can keep destructive elements at bay. This diversity within the marine ecosystem from one area to another shows how important it is to conserve more than just one or two isolated patches in order to benefit fully.

In addition to Boreni, yet another community expressed interest in the Kuruwitu model, this time from the Lamu area, a considerable distance up the coast towards Somalia. The community members even came down to talk to the Kuruwitu fishermen and again we were there to record their wonderment at the fish at Kuruwitu.

So it looks like AEFF shall have a camera team on the coast for a long time (as long as we can raise enough funding to make all these films!) What is interesting to note is that this need for films on the coast is repeated time and time again across the country, and indeed across the region. I have been struck many times by how many parallels there are between the forests and savannas and the marine environment. Now there’s another idea for a film…

You’ll remember that in my previous post about progress on this film, I had promised to post some images…so here we have it:

The Kuruwitu story in pictures…



This is Kuruwitu in 2006, but it resembles much of Kenya’s underwater landscape beyond the Marine Parks these days. Huge areas have been denuded by irresponsible tourism (people breaking the coral heads with their feet while snorkeling), by over-utilization of fish and all other marine life (which has removed the creatures which keep the sea urchins in check), and by the effects of El Nino over ten years ago.


This was a typical sight before Kuruwitu was formed. Sea Urchins have completely destroyed this coral head, which has probably been living here for four hundred years. This area used to be one of the finest coral gardens on the East African coast but it was decimated by people’s feet trampling the coral while snorkeling and by the rough waters stirred up by the El Nino weather system in 1996. Most of the fish were caught and taken away for the aquarium trade. Some of the coral would also have been sold as living specimens across the world.


A new emerging coral head is fed upon by a sea urchin. “Urchin” is an old word for a spiny hedgehog. The urchins feed on the algae, which coat the coral and, as they do this, they undermine the coral heads, which then collapse. As a result of the removal of the creatures which feed on urchins, their numbers had risen so that new coral like this one could never grow to maturity.


Sea Urchins have completely devastated this area – scientists now term it “urchin barren”.


This man is searching for “the last” baby octopus. Local traditional fishermen have seen their stocks of fish plummet as more and more people arrive at the coast to concentrate on removing anything edible from the shallow waters along the reefs. Additionally more efficient fishing nets, scuba diving equipment, and motorized boats have increased the catches to such an extent that today, there is hardly anything left. So now there is little hope for a better life from fishing for most of the population along the coast, and other alternatives need to be found.


Tidal pools like this one are completely devoid of fish and no longer hold breeding fish stocks at low tide. These pools have been denuded of all life by over-exploitation, including by the international aquarium trade.


These coral reef fish represent the desperation that coastal people now face in their struggle for survival, for these are not traditional food species. Due to over-exploitation of fish all along Kenya’s 500km coastline, there are no larger fish here any more. These reef fish have far more value attracting and being seen by tourists who will pay time and time again to come and see them, but faced with hunger and no other options, people have no choice but to eat them.



These men are members of the Kuruwitu Conservation and Welfare Association. They are not wealthy in material terms but they have the most extraordinary asset right on their doorstep. The No Fishing Zone that they have voluntarily created is recovering and will soon provide the foundation for a better standard of living for this coastal community. Supported now by the Kenya Government and with funding from a European Union/Kenya Government financial grant, the local people will have the means to conduct snorkeling and glass bottom boat tours to their coral gardens. They now have the opportunity to change their way of life from fishing to tourism. This is only possible because of the astonishing recovery of the Kuruwitu area, for which they must take much of the credit.


There are thousands of different types of coral across the world. You may find this hard to believe but a coral is an animal. Thousands of free-swimming larvae drift across the oceans before attaching themselves to rocks where they develop into billions of living polyps, which secrete calcium carbonate skeletons. Over thousands of years whole reefs are formed in this way. People benefit from healthy reefs in many diverse ways.
The protection of this reef by the Kuruwitu Conservation and Welfare Association is probably one of the most far reaching and important events in Kenya’s recent marine history.
After seeing our film there is no telling how many more communities will also see the wisdom of their actions and emulate the model in their own areas, in order to secure healthy fish stocks for themselves and for future generations.


Prior to the formation of the No Fishing Zone by the Conservation Association, the aquarium trade had removed nearly all the fish but here is living proof of the Association’s success and their determination and courage in the face of opposition from many sides. They have to contend not only with the professional aquarium traders in Kenya, who remove an uncontrolled number of fish and even living coral (on which fish rely for safe refuges and breeding places), but also with some other local fishing communities alongside the Kuruwitu area who have yet to see the benefits to all brought about by a No Fishing Zone and say they have sold the sea.


Here’s another urchin killer. This large ferocious Black Barred or Picasso Trigger fish is responsible for keeping those coral wreckers in check. But this fish is in great demand as an aquarium fish. It was aquarium suppliers who denuded the original Kuruwitu coral gardens and if it were not for the Conservation Association members, they would still be carrying out their destructive trade.



Beautiful Helmet Shells like this one have been removed from the coastal waters in their hundreds of thousands to sell to tourists. These creatures feed on sea urchins, and so the end result is that sea urchins proliferate uncontrollably. They are not the only creature that kills urchins and keeps their population in check but their almost total removal from the underwater environment has had a significant effect.


It has been calculated that the international seashell trade removes 2,200 tons of shells per year from the ocean. Why is it that we humans must remove everything we can from our environment when it looks so much more beautiful and natural in its rightful place? How many parents still encourage their children to collect shells during a stroll along the beach? In today’s world, there are just not enough shells left for that luxury.


Would you buy one of these cowrie shell necklaces after learning and seeing the effect of removing marine creatures from their natural home on Kenya’s coral reefs?


Please help us complete this educational film!

AEFF requires a further $5,000 to complete the filming and postproduction work on this film. This will cover the cost of the editing, the writing, translating and recording of the narration (in English and Kiswahili, and hopefully in Giriama too – the tribal language of this coastal area) and all other finishing costs.

In addition, we need to raise $3,750 to produce 500 multi-language DVD copies of the film for free distribution across Africa via our network of distribution partners including mobile cinemas, conservation organizations, educational institutions, terrestrial and satellite TV. This includes the cost of creating a DVD master, producing the covers, replicating the DVDs, packaging each DVD into a cover, freight of the DVDs from UK to Kenya (there are no reliable replication facilities in East Africa at present) and the significant cost of distributing each DVD to remote places across the continent.

Once completed, this film will be seen by millions of people in its first year alone, and will forever endure as an important educational and historical document, charting the progress at Kuruwitu, and setting an example for others to follow in order to create a better life for themselves, without destroying the environment. Please help if you can….Thank you.

Catch up on previous tales of Kuruwitu through our earlier posts:
Leaking Canoes but no dampening of spirits…
Of Corals, Turtles and Fishermen…

Image Problem Resolved (I hope!)

UPDATE: I have uploaded the photos again in the three posts where there was a problem…thanks again to Jan, Sheryl and Bree for taking the time to send me feedback…hopefully, the images are all there to view now!


Thank you to Sheryl who pointed out that most of the hippo images in my last post were not visible to you all… Now I’m wondering whether there has been a problem in several more of my recent posts. The confusing thing is that I can see all the images perfectly on my computer, but they’re obviously not visible to others…so I was wondering if one of you might be able to help me check my recent posts – if the images are not visible to you, please let me know and I will upload them all over again…on the other hand, if they are visible, please do tell me, as re-uploading will take me a long time which could be better spent writing a brand new post or two!

Kindly check for me the following recent posts:

A Hippo Tale – there should be 8 full size photos visible.

Oldies & Newbies – 15 full size photos.

Big Game Week – 10 full size photos.

A Rewarding Day – 15 full size photos plus 6 thumbnails.

The Turtle Watcher – 6 full size photos.

Thank you so much for taking the time to help me resolve this…and thanks again to Sheryl for alerting me – without her comment, I would be blissfully ignorant of the problems!

A Hippo Tale



“Our” hippos seem to be doing rather well. Every time we go down to Hippo Bend, at the far end of our property where the huge white sandbank provides the perfect viewing spot, we seem to see more and more of them in their deep water pool below the rapids.



After visiting them a few times, you can predict their routine, for there seems to be a set pattern to their behaviour. The hippos spend the heat of each day lethargic, docile and almost entirely submerged in the river, protected from the sun’s cruel burning rays by the water and by special sun-blocking secretions from their skin.



Then, as soon as the sun dips below the tree-line in the late afternoon, the pod – almost as one – immediately starts to rumble, grumble and stir. (Come the dull light, out come the hippos: yet more frustration for the photographer who relishes the golden light at the day’s end but is thwarted in the pursuit of a great action shot by the hippos’ inactivity while the sun still shines!)



You are alerted to their imminent activity by the distinctive honking of one or another in the pod, and then inevitably the odd scuffles ensue, as the giants awake from their slumber…suddenly one will lash out at the other, rudely ending the day’s reverie and there will be a great splashing of water and lunging at the speed of lightning (who would have expected it from such a great lumbering beast?).





And of course there’s a great deal of the obligatory wide-mouthed yawning, just to show who’s boss (there seem to be a few contenders, even amongst the babies who mimic their elders).



Finally, as the darkness draws the human spectators reluctantly away, they know that in their wake, the hippos will leave the sanctuary of their river and head inland, in search of grass to fill their great stomachs and sustain them for the next day, which will be spent so busily suspended in the cooling water of their deep river pool…

Browse more hippo pics…

Oldies & Newbies

Our internet has been down for two days, and now is coming on and off sporadically…this is not helping with my intention to catch up on a whole range of stories. For the same reason, I apologise for not responding to all the comments you have been leaving…thank you for them all – as soon as our internet becomes stable again, I’ll be responding…in the meantime, here’s an update or two (if I have time before the internet goes down again (keep your fingers crossed!):


You may remember that we’ve been seeing the Spot-flanked Barbets around and about the place for a while now, usually in the commiphora thicket behind the house, but they’ve always been quite shy. So you can imagine our delight when one of these Barbets turned up on the bird table! They always seem to come when the Bulbuls are there too – it’s as if they feel safe with them around – or perhaps it’s just because they are both fruit-eaters that they end up foraging together…although if I were a Barbet I’d try to get in there before the Bulbuls who are so voracious (below)!



The birds are not the only ones in competition for the fruit – even the bees (or are they big flies?) have taken a liking to mango. Whether the lizards are here for the fruit or merely for the ants which have been attracted to the fruit is hard to tell, but they aren’t shy of the birds.


Spot-flanked Barbet feeds on sanseviera fruit

The Spot-flanked Barbets (above) are also showing a particular penchant for the sanseviera robusta fruit, which are ripe and orange now. I often see them in the sanseviera stand below the kitchen window, plucking off the plump round fruit and swallowing them whole.


There seem to be a lot of White-capped Shrikes around at the moment (above), making their presence felt with their noisy chatter.


A gaggle of Superb Starlings has been in the area too – strangely they have yet to visit the bird table (normally they are among the first to come to bird tables in Kenya, but perhaps they have been put off by the larger and equally boisterous Glossy Starlings, below).



As you can see by the photos above and below, the weather has been grey and cold. When the Helmeted Guineafowl passed by right below the house, it was just my luck that the light was dull, but I’m sure you can see nonetheless that they are quite spectacular, cheerful looking birds.


The Go-Away Birds (below) really seem to have grown accustomed to the house and all its accompanying activity – we see them daily from our balcony. The Black-faced Sandgrouse continue to fly in at 8.30am each morning, come blue skies or grey, to gulp a few quick mouthfuls of water before racing back to the dry hinterland again, completely unconcerned by our presence. The Blue-naped Mousebirds with their appropriately long tails and (believe it or not) blue napes have also been feeding and drinking along the river’s edge recently.



The Hadada Ibis, as it forages along the river’s shore, is followed by a Spur-winged Plover and a couple of opportunistic Pied Wagtails (below), hoping to catch an insect or two disturbed by the larger bird…it’s interesting to see the Plover subdued (for once) and not trying to bully and intimidate the Ibis, as it does with so many other much larger passers-by.

Hadada Ibis followed by a Spur-winged Plover and two Pied Wagtails

This Grey-headed Kingfisher made me laugh as it watched an eagle fly overhead…obviously it wasn’t too pleased but I’m not quite sure what it hoped to achieve by hunkering down like a stalking cat! In these photos, you can easily see the chestnut belly of the Grey-headed Kingfisher, which distinguishes it from the otherwise similar Brown-hooded Kingfisher, which we also see from time to time here on the property.



The Spotted Morning Warbler (below) is an extraordinary bird, not only for the incredible mud nest (like a little cup, perched atop a branch) which it builds, but for the way it mimics other bird calls. Its repertoire is quite amazing.



Those Fish Eagles are not doing much better with their fishing…As the river level drops, fish are getting trapped in pockets of water, like sitting ducks. The Pied Kingfishers hover and dive all day, picking off the hapless fish. The Fish Eagles however, seem to be eternally unsuccessful…no wonder the young Fish Eagle (bottom photo, below), sitting in a tree opposite the house and whining, is making his displeasure heard! As for us, we have been having a great time eagle-watching…I have taken endless photos of these majestic looking creatures diving and swooping for their prey…if you’d like to see them, there’s a wider selection of photos here.



View more bird images from: May 2008 and June 2008

Big Game Week

The week before we left for Nairobi was quite extraordinary from a big game viewing perspective…you see, when you visit the Masai Mara, you can almost guarantee to tick off all the major big game species within a few days, but in Tsavo, this is quite unusual, due to the different terrain and thicker bush. That’s what makes Tsavo such an exciting ecosystem to me, the fact that you never know what you’re going to see…it has a certain mystique…that’s why it makes such a great destination for the seasoned visitor to Africa who’s here more for the excitement than for a guaranteed viewing of the big five in a day…

With the hinterland drying up, more and more of the big game is coming back to the river, and I think it is this which has made the last few weeks so magical. It started with the antelope – we’ve had regular sightings of Lesser Kudu, big herds of Impala (plus our resident young bachelors, including One-Horn), Waterbuck and of course masses of Dikdik. The Warthogs are back too.

Female Lesser Kudu across the river from the house


One of our resident young Impala rams just below the house


A mother and baby Waterbuck, part of a herd that regularly
drinks from the river just to the right of our house

As for our regulars, the river seems to become more and more crocodile-infested by the day. As well as some really big old boys, we’ve been seeing a lot of small crocodiles, so they’re obviously breeding apace and getting more than enough to eat, with all the fish in the river and the odd bigger meal as well. Talking of regulars, the baboons are around too, in great noisy troops – still coming down onto the sandbank at dusk to play and relax. The hippos too are thriving in their deep water pool at Hippo Bend. I’m planning to write a separate post about them before long.


A small crocodile basks in the sun, behind a trail of hippo tracks

The herd of buffalo that came onto the beach one evening at dusk was somewhat unexpected – over one hundred of them! We watched them from our balcony as they ambled across our sandbank and then crossed the river into the National Park…of course, as luck would have it, the light had already started fading as the sun had fallen below the tree line, but nonetheless I couldn’t resist taking some photos – it’s not every day we can say we had 100 buffaloes in our “back yard”!


As if that weren’t enough, a couple of days later, three old bull buffalo came down for a drink in the river, and one stayed behind for a what looked like a really good wallow.



A jolly good mud bath!

Following on from the buffalo, you can imagine our delight when I heard a crashing and crunching sound from the reeds opposite the house, again late in the evening in fading light: two bull elephants had appeared and were making a hearty meal of the reeds. They were literally right in front of the house and we spent a fabulous fifteen minutes watching them.


Then the two bulls lumbered off upstream, and a few minutes later, when it was almost too dark to make them out, we watched their great dark shapes wade across the river onto our property and disappear into the thick riverine vegetation.

Can you just make out the two dark hulks as they reach our beach?

But that’s not all! The following day – again at last light (oh – the photographer’s frustration!), we were sitting on the balcony enjoying the peace of evening, when suddenly, there on the beach below the house, was a leopard! How long had it been silently sitting there, without us noticing it? What a shame the light was so low, and my photos so fuzzy as a result, but I think you should be able to make out the spotted, feline shape nonetheless…

As I said, what a week that was!


With so much wildlife around over these last few weeks, it’s impossible to include all my photos in posts, but if you want to see more images of the wild animals around and about our Kulafumbi home, you can take a look here:

MAY WILDLIFE: elephants, buffalo, kudu, baboons & more…

JUNE WILDLIFE: crocodiles, leopard, warthogs, squirrels & more…

A Rewarding Day

I am finally back in my office after a hectic, but very fruitful ten days in Nairobi – non-stop meetings, meetings, meetings…but it’s all looking good for AEFF, as we continue to build relationships with partner organizations with whom we hope to grow and flourish over the coming years.

Of course, our Nairobi trip started with the prize giving at the Giraffe Center, which was celebrating 25 years in conservation in Kenya, making this year’s environmental awareness competition particularly special.

As you know, AEFF was asked to donate 150 DVDs as prizes for the school children and university students taking part…and thanks to the generosity of our supporters from Wildlife Direct, Safaritalk, Fodors and our own website, we managed to raise the funds to enable us to provide these prizes. As a result, every winner and every runner up received, within their parcel of prizes, an educational DVD about various environmental and wildlife issues, drawn from our selection of 12 different films.


What a day it was! The event kicked off at 1.30pm, with poetry readings by children from all around the country, of all different backgrounds and age-groups…and no ordinary poetry reading it was either, for the kids themselves had written their poems, demonstrating an acute grasp of the issues and a deep concern for the environmental health of their country. It was really moving to sit there and listen and watch, for the poets were very animated in their delivery. The younger children sang songs, which they acted out as they sang.







One of the most extraordinary performances came from the Machakos School for the Deaf. Despite their disability, these kids staged the most extraordinary dance routine in colorful costumes and intricately painted faces, guided by the deep rhythmic vibration of a drum (below). It was an incredible performance.


Altogether, there were over 400 students at the event, which was held in the leafy gardens of the Giraffe Center, in Nairobi’s Langata suburbs. We caught up with many friends from the conservation field, including Steve Itela from Youth for Conservation and his colleague Isaac.

Isaac and Steve from Youth for Conservation, with AEFF’s own Lucy and Ian


The Guest of Honor at the event was the Director of the Kenya Wildlife Service, Dr Julius Kipng’etich (above), who made a grave yet rousing speech, discussing the major environmental issues of our day (global warming, pollution, over-population, deforestation, loss of biodiversity), and calling upon the youth to meet these challenges as they grow into adulthood – while simultaneously pointing out to the current generation that if we do not face these issues, it will be the young who condemn us when we hand on the problems to them. Dr Kipng’etich then outlined KWS’s strategy in meeting the demands of the coming years, a process in which he hopes many young and talented people will join him.


Of course, as the prize giving itself approached, the kids could hardly contain themselves (above). The KWS Director was the first to hand out prizes, to the overall Boys Environmental Champion of the Year, and the Girls Environmental Champion of the Year (below).


The KWS Director congratulates the Girls Environmental Champion, while Rick Anderson (the Giraffe Center’s Chairman), and Christine Odhiambo (its manager) look on.

Following on from this, various sponsors and supporters were called upon to hand out prizes to the kids, from the youngest kindergarten children who won awards for their artworks, to the university students whose essays had set them apart from their peers. Ian Saunders, representing AEFF, was called out of the audience to give away a series of awards, including our DVDs contained in every enticing prize package…





AEFF’s Ian Saunders hands out prizes (click to enlarge)


Altogether it was a fantastic day, perfectly organized by the Giraffe Center team led by its manager, Christine Odhiambo, and even the giraffes turned up on cue, to thrill children and adults alike.



From AEFF’s point of view, we are delighted that 150 school children and university students now have a copy of one of our educational films to show at their schools, all across the country. This will also allow the schools to get in touch with us, and request further films to use in their science classes. Already since the event, AEFF has received requests from university students who want to show our films in their Environmental Clubs at university, and from there take them further afield to show to community groups… it just goes to show how many diverse positive effects can come from participating in an event like this.

Thank you again to all our supporters who made this possible.

If you are able to continue supporting us with a contribution towards our film making work, your donation will be gratefully received and will help us to continue making educational films long into the future, for the benefit of people, the environment and wildlife in Africa. Thank you.