Sunday, 6 April 2014

Picking up rubbish and seeing...... in Shimba Hills National Reserve

Today we joined the Shimba Support Group (SSG) at Shimba Hills National Reserve, Kenya, to do a big clean-up. There were four of us from Colobus Conservation that were joining SSG and we were very excited. Not about picking up the rubbish, although it is good to do so, but the fact we could possibly see Elephants, Sable Antelope, Giraffe and if we were unbelievably incredibly ridiculously lucky a Leopard.

Bernard, the Treasurer of SSG, picked us up at 7.30am in his air conditioned Range Rover (Oh My God air conditioning) and off we went for the 45 minute drive. It was very comfortable and a pleasant change to be cool and not sweating. Driving through Ukunda (local town) and the other villages was a new experience in itself, as I was asleep for a lot of the journey from Mombasa airport to Diani when I first arrived. It was fascinating seeing everyone going about their daily business, and the general hubbub of the area.

A Matatu, standard transport in Kenya.

Leaving Ukunda (local town) heading to Shimba Hill National Reserve
Shimba Hills in the background

We were all experiencing childlike excitement on reaching the gate of Shimba Hills, the terrain was much different from what we were used to; like we were going into Jurassic Park. Bernard had warned us that due to the thick bush like terrain it is not likely that we would see much, if anything; so we were holding out for lady luck. Well not more than 5 minutes in and what happens, we spot 3 frigging elephants 15 metres away and walking towards our position. I was so excited and started snapping away to make sure I could remember this moment and share it with everyone who wasn't there. It was three youngish elephants and they moved with purpose towards us, but they wanted the water (not us thankfully). They splashed the water and mud on their body’s and then within a few minutes had disappeared into the bush never to be seen again. It was like they were saying, OK here you go have a quick look, take a photo, tell your friends about us. Safe to say we were now buzzing and wondering what else we would see.

Approaching main gate to Shimba Hills

Entrance to Shimba Hill National Reserve

Two young elephants

Elephant having a mud bath

Elephants crossing the road

I sometimes feel I should just enjoy the experience of the event that is unfolding in front of me rather than snap away to grab a photo. I would agree in some circumstances yes that is lovely to do; however I had wanted to see African elephants for a long time and they were not really stopping so I knew I had little time; does feel like I didn't really take it all in though.

We arrived at our rendezvous point and met the other people (mainly ex-pats and workers from a local community project) and then got a briefing for the day. Minibuses took us to the starting point and we began picking up what rubbish we could find. It was quite a privilege to be walking through a National Reserve as it is not normally allowed, to be more specific it was the public road that cars/buses use to go to Nairobi (but still technically in the park). About fifteen minutes into the litter pick the heavens opened and we got absolutely soaked. As this was an open road there were not really any trees around so we just had to take it. Once the rain had moved on the glorious sun came out and it wasn't long before we were dry again.

Briefing before clean-up begins
The four of us and a coupe of others were near the back getting further and further away from the other group; and for good reason. We were properly looking around for bits of rubbish, found many plastic and glass bottles, wrapper bits, car parts etc (goodness knows what the main group of around 30 people were doing walking past all this waste).

First bit of rubbish

The group and our guard
It took us just over 2 hours to complete the section we were instructed to sweep and that brought us back to the main gate; our starting point. Everyone else was already there, including another group that did the other direction with a local school group. The amount of rubbish we all collected was impressive (I personally got a bag and a half; thank you) and was nice to know it was all going to be recycled and disposed of properly. The plastic bottles were going to a community project where they use them to build bottle benches. Group photo then we went to a nice spot in the Reserve for a spot of lunch, or my homemade peanut butter sandwiches, (palm oil free of course-find out why click here) After an hour or so we went our separate ways and ours just happened to be a trip around the park, thanks to Bernard.

Final group photo, look at all that rubbish

A school group learning about protecting the environment

Unfortunately, seeing the elephants right at the beginning had raised our expectations. We did see a small deer called a Dik-Dik (I believe), with a small bright white tail and a bound in its step that would put Usain Bolt to shame, and a large group of Baboons, which apart from seeing them in a more natural setting was not really a big deal as I see them everyday in Diani. The views from some of the stopping points were breathtaking and it was peacefully quiet and a nice change of scenery.

Me in front of a breathtaking view

A group of yellow baboons in a more natural setting
This rounded up our clean-up day in Shimba Hills Nature Reserve and not only did we feel we had done our part in making the reserve a better place; we saw ELEPHANTS!

As always the pictures are my own and uploaded at a lower quality as my internet in Kenya is slow.

You can see all my photos of my time in Kenya on my Flickr page here -

Or on my facebook page here -

"The views and opinions expressed in the Diary of a Primatologist blog are purely my own and are not in any way linked to any organisations I may represent or work with unless otherwise stated. All photos are my own unless otherwise stated and a source will be provided where other photos are used. The owner of the site is not liable for any content accessed through links posted."

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