Theory Teacher's Blog

Nairobi Diaries 6: “Wild” Animals and the Environment

As I mentioned in Nairobi Diary 1 — the overall itinerary — we did have some time to do a bit of that touristy safari thing and see some animals. And of course when I show people the 600-plus photographs that I took in Kenya, the ones everyone oohs and ahhhs over are the animal photos, not the people photos. (And this should come as no surprise if you’ve read Wainaina’s satire “How to write about Africa.”) I’m a contrarian by nature, so I was going to not blog about the animals just out of spite for all ya’ll who love them so. I tend to be that sarcastic friendless guy who snidely demystifies everything — especially the kind of myth of Africa one finds in Hollywood movies.

But then I looked up some fun facts and came to a different conclusion. The tourism industry based on that safari myth is 10% of Kenya’s GDP — the third largest contributor to the overall economy after agriculture and manufacturing according to its government. I imagine also that it’s one of the only things protecting the land from pollution produced by weakly regulated industrial farming. So, this is one of those instances where I should be encouarging the myth, because the myth does really good work, but as I mentioned before, my impression of Kenya’s reality is that it is very crowded with people, farms (both industrial and subsistance), and commercial cities. Just like every other country in the world, from the U.S. to Japan to Europe, the days of unowned land seemed long gone to me. Hence, government run parks there are aplenty. Ironically, after I came back to Minnesota from my trip to Africa, I saw some “wild” animals (that is to say, really wild and not in a game park — a baby deer one day, a fox the next) running around my university’s pristine campus.

city of Nairobi behind the wild giraffe

city of Nairobi behind the "wild" giraffe

My group never got out to any of the big, beautiful wildlife parks that are so popular with tourists, because we had another agenda, but one afternoon we did spend a few hours driving through the Nairobi National Park, which is 117 square kilometers huge and only seven kilometers from the center of the city. As you might imagine, searching for animals was really a lot of fun, and we saw giraffes, gazelles, rhinos, ostrich, buffalo, baboons, zebras, warthogs, etc. — all that stuff that you’ve all seen in picture books, so I’m not going to spend time putting up all my pictures of the animals when you can find better ones taken by more skillful photographers on the internet.

Two things that I found interesting were (1) how close the city was, which you can see in this photo, and (2) how close the animals would get to us. In fact, they appeared to be so used to tourists driving about taking pictures, they would stand there looking at our car completely unperturbed. In the middle of the day, they were hard to spot because they were hiding from the hot sun, not from us, so keep that in mind if you go. And notably, we only saw the vegetable-eating animals, no carnivores.

They're coming straight at us... Run!

They're coming straight at us... Run!

The only carnivores I saw that day were my fellow travellers, and after the park we went to the most touristy restaurant in the country — named appropriately The Carnivore, where you can eat as much meat as you want. The waiters walk around with skewers of beef, goat, chicken, ostrich, crocodile, etc., and you take your pick, and then wash it down with some of Kenya’s gorgeously refreshing Tusker beer.

The second-to-last day of our trip, when were on the western edge of Kenya, we took a boat ride in one of Lake Victoria’s large bays. We saw a hippo, and then as we got closer, that hippo became two, then three, and suddenly a whole posse of hippos were coming straight at us, so our guide started up the motor and we took off.

However, the lake was brown with polution. Our guide said that when he was a boy the lake was clear and beautiful, but alas, no more. The difficulty with the lake, I was told, is that several countries use it, and getting one country to find the will to do some environmental conservation is hard enough — but several countries collaborating during a time of ethnic violence, even harder. I am beginning to see the value of an Eco-Tourism industry, something I was skeptical of before since I once believed the government should just protect the land and the animals by effectively enforcing good environmental policy.  Maybe such a thing as tourism might help save this lake, which really was pretty cool…. I mean, look at those hippos!!!


July 22, 2009 - Posted by | Kenya

1 Comment »

  1. The good thing about the animals is that they could be hunted, and very gainfully so. The bad thing is that they are not being hunted.

    There is a reason why most of Kenyan’s animals are alarmingly endangered (except for cartoonist Gado’s famous zoomorph symbols of corruption), while game animals are teeming and multiplying so much in Germany and Japan e.g., that they are increasingly becoming a problem. The reason is that in both Germany and Japan, game is intensely and sustainably hunted, while Kenya subscribes to an outdated and colonialist ideology of – quite discredited – “fortress conservation”. Noble animals that have to be defended and protected against ignoble savages.

    Comment by Alexander Eichener | November 1, 2009 | Reply

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