Plain and sample
As we arranged accommodation logistics for this meeting, Shadrach (from our Liberia programme) and I congratulated ourselves in pairing up away from two self-confessed snorers. On the first night, which was unseasonably cold and uncomfortable, we both proceeded to snore horribly, adding to the cacophony of other tents. Despite this we dragged ourselves up before 6am for a wonderful game drive.
Mount Kenya framed the plains as the sun rose and as soon as it was light enough to be alert for pouncing predators, Pippa produced hot flasks of coffee, her hair still wild from sleep. We saw eland (the largest antelopes alive), hundreds of guineafowl, warthogs and much more.
Seeing the huge herds of buffalo that live on this Conservancy took me back to 2006 when I was on foot daily here, collecting data. The study focused on mapping sample areas of bush and recording the dung of different species within, as evidence of the different habitat types utilised by various species. The Conservancy wanted to use the findings to ensure its burning regime wasn't disadvantaging the vegetation available for any particular species. This is symptomatic of the sad reality that conservation areas in much of Africa and beyond have to be managed in such a careful way, now that free movements of wildlife are largely blocked or at least hugely disrupted. The natural order of movement, boom and bust has been seriously compromised by heavy human presence.
The buffalo are by far the scariest species to meet in the bush here, especially in thickets, which is where old cantankerous males are banished when they leave the herd. More than once I had to run to avoid a trampling. On the more open plain, the herds advance towards a threat with menacing/confused looks, their young tucked into the centre of the group. I had close encounters with lion, elephant and rhino, but it was buffalo that always made me feel closest to a maiming.
At bedtime, Shadrach (pictured with his coffee cup) was updating me on the latest in Liberian politics, where the ex-footballer George Weah has recently been elected President. Shadrach believes this is pure populism, voting for a household name whose capabilities and intellect are limited. At least Weah has been involved in public service since his retirement from the pitch, which is more than can be said for the spirit of other populist leaders that we know of...
It remains to be seen what Weah will achieve as President, especially around corruption. Mismanagement of finances is common in uneducated leaders, but Weah has immense wealth from his career. I will be getting more involved again in our Liberia programme over the next few weeks so I will try and keep abreast of the politics.