Our Kenyan adventure began in Nairobi. It’s a city of 4 million people, capitol of a nation of 40 million. It is not a pretty city: it is sprawling, clogged with traffic, with obvious poverty.
On the other hand, there is a vibrant business area and every single Kenyan we met was warm and cheerful and welcoming. National elections are coming in two months. The field for president started with 14 candidates; they have built coalitions so that the race is now down to five coalitions.
Each day we were in Nairobi there were parade rallies, with buses honking, people cheering, loud-speakers blaring, and the streets are full of campaign posters. Past elections have involved violence in the post election period, but people seem to be more hopeful that this election will be more peaceful.
Kenyans tend to identify themselves, and their party affiliations, by tribal history. On the other hand, almost everyone we talked with had a mixed tribal background, or a mixed marriage. This may account for the optimism, as well as pride in the comparative peace of Kenya in a tough neighborhood. Kenya has borders with Somalia, Uganda and Ethiopia, among others. There was a fair amount of security: screening before we went into our hotel, checks under our car for bombs at the bank. We were told that the security had substantially increased since Kenya chased the Al Shabab radicals back across the border into Somalia.
We spent our first day getting accustomed to the time zone (11 hours ahead of California time) and visiting two animal refuges. The David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust rears orphaned elephants, primarily, although they also raise some orphaned rhinos. It is a complicated operation, involving the development of a special formula for those not yet weaned, the provision of keepers without creating too much dependence on humans, and a protocol for reintroduction into the wild. The youngest elephants were tumbling around in muddy water holes like human toddlers, slipping and rolling about. They were having so much fun they were all red mud-colored instead of gray.
The Giraffe Center is devoted to restoring the population of Rothschild giraffes, a subspecies with only 120 left. There are now over 300 due to their breeding program. Their spots are round, with some dark spots and long white socks. The grown giraffes are much more used to people, and some up to be fed, sticking out their long, purple tongues.
Peter, thee young naturalist-in-training who talked with us, was knowledgeable and charming. Most of all, he loved his job and was passionate about the animals, glad to share their story with us.
If there is a larger story to these refuge activities, it is the commitment to preserving, even restoring, wildlife in Kenya. The dangers include poaching, especially elephants for their tusks. There has recently been an upsurge in poaching, spurred in part by the chaos and poverty in neighboring countries. Habitat loss has threatened all wildlife here. And natural causes, of course, are a factor. One of those toddler elephants had a stubby tail, having lost most of the rest to a hyena. Kenya outlawed hunting altogether in 1977, and those caught hunting in national parks can be shot on sight or sent to prison for life. Our guide, Allan, said, “That’s why you are here. If there was hunting, there would be fewer animals.”
Catherine Camp is currently retired. She served as a Consultant to the California Senate Budget Committee in 2001-02, reviewing Social Services, Employment Development, Aging, Community Services, Alcohol and Drug Programs, Rehabilitation and Child Support budgets. From 1989-2000, Catherine was Executive Director for the California Mental Health Directors Association. During that period, Catherine staffed the county mental health system’s restructuring of public mental health through Realignment of community and long term care programs from the state to the county, transfer of the management of specialty mental health Medi-Cal services to those counties that agreed to provide them, development of risk mechanisms for consortia of small counties, and advocacy and policy analysis for the operation of public mental health programs throughout the state. Her prior experience includes Executive Director to the California-Nevada Community Action Association, Principal Consultant to the Assembly Human Services Policy Committee, and Director of Community Action and Head Start programs in Shasta County.