Wednesday, Dec. 22, 2010
So the other night, Lisa, Elle and I were delivering Lisa’s excellent home-made pizzas to our friends to share for dinner. It was dark as we pulled in their driveway. Being a typical warm night, I had the window open with my arm out the window. To our surprise, we pulled in next to a bull elephant. He was also surprised that we interrupted his mango search, and I fumbled to find the window closer in case he became agitated. It was cool to watch him search the car-park roof with his trunk for loose mangoes (there is a tree next to the driveway). He managed to inflict some damage to the tin-rippling roof as he wedged tusks under and trunk over.
And just yesterday, I was reading a book late morning in the porch out back, facing a nice patch of forest and swamp. It is full of birds by day, monkeys at dusk, insects through the night, and who knows what else. Elle was snoozing on my lap, until suddenly she was gone. I realized something was up a short time later, and looked to the screen, and there was little Elle, eye to eye with a big Monitor lizard. This lizard, approximately 4 feet from blunt nose to pointy tail, had crept up to the porch from the forest and seemed to be sizing up Elle for lunch. I think Elle was mesmerized, as she was unusually silent and frozen in front of the screen. Elle loves to chase after the little lizard critters sunning along the roadsides, but she appeared to be reconsidering…
Today, Lisa and I accompanied Hadrien and his two assistants on several transects in Vera Plain, a region of savannah grasslands mixed with forest fragments south of Yenzi. Hadrien is a post-doc researcher working with Smithsonian to document mammal use of the landscape around Gamba. The transects are approx. 500-yard treks in which he catalogs animal tracks, scats, and observations, by GPS and other means. We started at daybreak, at the end of a torrential thunderstorm that raged through the night. Everything was dripping wet. One of the transects crossed a patch of forest following elephant trails dotted with dung. At the further edge of the forest, we managed to observe a mother elephant with her very small calf. They became aware of us as we crossed a clearing and they melted into the forest. We retraced our steps, returning to the vehicles, and suddenly Hadrien, bringing up the rear, jumped back from the trail. As it turned out, all four of us in front of Hadrien had passed over a snake in the trail. It was half-hidden in the leaf litter, no one seeing it until it squirmed next to my boot. Luckily for all of us it wasn’t aggressive. Who knows what kind it was, we weren’t going to be poking around to see. These kinds of forays remind me of my hunting days in Camp Ripley, except that the trees are larger, the wildlife more formidable, and no bow and arrows. For me, a hike in the forest is a test of vigilance.
A few transects later, we were pleased to see a herd of 14 forest buffaloes crossing a clearing in the distance. And while we crossed clearings, we were entertained by flocks of rosy bee-eaters circling just over our heads. These agile swallow-sized birds with beautiful rose-colored breasts were snatching grasshoppers sent flying by our footsteps. We all made it out alive, and plan to meet again Friday morning for another series of transects.