My article for The Critic:When I was ten years old, in 1968, my parents took me and two of my sisters on a safari through Kenya and Tanzania. Having lived there when they first married in the 1950s, they wanted us to see the wildlife before it was all gone. Newly independent Kenya, its population booming, would soon have few lions or elephants left.
This was not intended as a political criticism, it was just that there was unlikely to be room for such luxuries in a poor nation striving to feed its expanding population.The first of the game reserves we visited, the Masai Mara, with its abundant big game and beautiful birds, left an indelible impression on my young mind. It helped turn me into a bird watcher and then a biologist. This winter, 53 years later, I returned to the Mara for the first time.
To say that my parents’ pessimism was unjustified is to understate the matter — vastly. The grassy plains either side of the Mara river are as rich as ever in zebra, topi, eland, wildebeest, waterbuck, gazelles, impala, giraffe and buffalo.There are plenty of elephants and — the poaching threat having faded at least for now — they are breeding like rabbits. Rhinos are increasing again and in 2020 not a single one was lost to poachers in all of Kenya.We watched a herd of more than a hundred hippos splashing about in the river and chasing crocodiles.
Lions, leopards, hyenas, jackals, baboons, mongeese, hyraxes, oribi, reedbuck, bushbuck — we saw them all. Every third tree seemed to have an eagle on it, not to mention vultures, harriers, kites and buzzards. Huge flocks of swallows and martins of several different species feasted on the insects disturbed by buffalo or cars.
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