Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Kenya 2010: On the Edge

His words suggested images that I did not want to see...
“Their were bones and rotten carcasses scattered everywhere, and the indigenous Samburu were surviving on rations provided by the Kenyan government.” Francis, our guide, claimed that the Samburu people are normally rich with livestock, but today their cattle and goats are dead. The Ewaso Ng'iro River stopped flowing and the arid plains of northern Kenya were wasting away. 

Three rainless years have created a barren landscape dotted by abandoned villages and decimated wildlife populations. A feast for the scavenger, elephants and buffalo lied wasting away in the scorching sun. Life can adapt to an arid world, but when the predictable cannot be predicted, death is inevitable. While rains are infrequent in northern Kenya, this land and its inhabitants depend on seasonal precipitation to recharge the land. The Ewaso Ng'iro is the artery on which this ecosystem depends, in its absence the system will collapse.

It took three years, but the rain finally returned to Samburu National Reserve. What should have been cause for celebration became a tragedy throughout the park. The unseasonably heavy rain pounded the arid soils and failed to percolate into the packed ground. Water pooled and flowed across the landscape. Flash floods poured into swollen rivers, and devastated villages and lodges throughout the park. The riparian valley was reborn, but flooding now challenged its inhabitants. 

Ecological stability occurs when there is a balance in nature; a fragile equilibrium in a food web defined by the eaters and the eaten. An inherent requisite for this stasis is a degree of predictability. While plants cannot consciously anticipate the rains, they are the product of evolutionary forces across millennia. Genetically programmed to flower, grow, and die they have adapted to repetitive seasonal patterns. Life across the planet exists on this razor’s edge. When climate predictably defies the norm, adaptations may become liabilities.  Here in lies the challenge of our world’s climactic problems. 
Samburu National Reserve is a dry and unforgiving place. With only one major river, life depends on a single predictable pattern... rain falls every year. Buried in my prose is a painfully obvious lesson about life and our future. A little park in the middle of East Africa experiences a drought, death and devastation follows; meanwhile global climatic conditions become increasingly unpredictable. 
You can now write the conclusion... 

©2000-2010 BTLeventhal.com / Bruce & Tamy Leventhal. All rights reserved. No image on this site may be used without permission

Saturday, July 24, 2010

Kenya 2010: The Migration North

We had spent two evenings at the Safari Club Hotel Nairobi, and were now ready to begin the bush experience we planned nearly fourteen months ago. Exiting the the bustling city during a Sunday sunrise meant that we could avoid the oppressive traffic that walled in any who dared enter its borders. With over three million people crammed into 696 km2, Nairobi is the most populous city in East Africa, and forms a Kenyan province of its own. The rules of the road appear to be defined by the moment and confound my own logic. We three are thankful for Francis, our guide, who knows the terrain like the lines on his face. His knowledge of the city and homeland seem to be embedded in his DNA as he propelled us effortlessly out of the metropolis and into the hinterland. 

Our destination was 350 km to the north on paved, unpaved, and pot-holed roads. Traveling in a stretched LandCruiser, we slowly made our way from Nairobi to Samburu National Reserve. During this five hour excursion, I could not avoid from comparing rural Kenya to the Tanzanian countryside we traversed in 2008. It became clear that Kenya is more “Westernized” than its neighbor to the south. While the homes and shops might be appear primitive to most from Europe and North America, the network of towns, villages and farms along the road were so numerous that it was a definite contrast to my recollections of Tanzania.

After five hours of twists, turns, bumps, and stops we arrived at the Samburu Simba Lodge. Cold towels and hot meals were waiting for us, a welcome relief from the dusty roads traveled that morning.

©2000-2010 BTLeventhal.com / Bruce & Tamy Leventhal. All rights reserved. No image on this site may be used without permission

Friday, July 16, 2010

Kenya 2010: An Elephant Story

Is there a place for photographs in this age of the web, instant video, and live streaming?

The ongoing disaster in the Gulf of Mexico reminds us that a moment in time, captured as a photograph, continues to have power and can invoke unanticipated emotion. While we all can watch the oil spewing from a severed pipe and imagine the consequences of this type of negligence, it is a photograph of the beached whale, oiled bird, or devastated person that ensnares our heart and mind.

There is power in the hidden story behind every still image. Rather than seeing what happens, the still requires us, the viewer, to invent the past and predict the future. This type of unknown makes for a mystery that our human brains are compelled to ponder. It is this unknown that makes pictures so captivating and thought provoking.

While life may be stranger than fiction, every picture tells a story that is narrated by the imagination in each of us. This story is defined by an untold past and an uncertain future. It is a story that is defined by the viewer, a mystery that continues to empower the still image in this post-modern age.

All of these images were taken at the David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust and Elephant Orphanage in Nairobi Kenya. The David Sheldrick Trust rescues baby elephants whose mothers were poached. The elephant keepers are a devoted lot. They sleep with the orphans, feed them, and teach the babies how to forage in their natural habitats. After three years of intense care and training, the elephants are released into national parks where they will form their own herd or join an pre-existing group. The orphans are tracked throughout their lives and have been known to recognize and greet their foster parents (the keepers) many years following their release into the wild. 

You can learn more about the Elephant Orphanage and contribute to their cause by visiting them in Nairobi, Kenya or on online at: www.sheldrickwildlifetrust.org

©2000-2010 BTLeventhal.com / Bruce & Tamy Leventhal. All rights reserved. No image on this site may be used without permission