Out of Africa: Kenya 2012

A busy autumn somehow kept me from scanning and sharing these, but with the start of a new year and the launch of a new website, it seemed appropriate to sit down and make time for it. On July 31st, I flew to Kenya for a six-week adventure with my girlfriend, who was completing the final field season of her Ph.D. I returned on September 7th with a fiancée, a newfound appreciation for readily-available ice, approximately 2000 pictures, and a thin sketchbook account of the journey. Below is a selection of those drawings, each executed on location, which is either “wedged in a tiny Maruti (Suzuki)” or “baking in the sun in a flimsy lawn chair.” Traveling light, my kit consisted of a watercolor Moleskine, a Schmincke travel tin of pan watercolors, and a tube of white gouache. With so much to do and see it was easy to forget the sketchbook in my pack, and I do wish I’d forced myself to draw more; I’ll just have to keep that in mind for our next adventure.

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The Ol Pejeta Conservancy in Laikipia, Kenya—the location of Blair’s field site and where I spent most of my time—is considered small at a whopping 90,000 acres. The sheer scale of the expansive plains makes one feel quite small in comparison. Southeast corner of Scott’s Plain.

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The Research Center was a converted stable, long and narrow, with a few bandas (huts) around it for additional lodging. The stalls were converted into either bedrooms (6), bathrooms (2), or storage closets, and the corrugated steel roofing makes a racket in the rain. A hallway runs along the front of the building, terminating at a small kitchen that opens onto a covered patio. The sign beyond the patio says “Beware of Wild Animals”: though an electrified wire ran around the tiny habitable section of the conservancy, it serves only as a deterrent and nothing more. Inside the wire, we saw elephants, hyenas, giraffe, baboons, and all kinds of ungulate species. The lions we heard at night could’ve been snooping around, too.

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The Research Center occasionally overbooked, and they set up tents around the perimeter when Yao Ming came to town with his film crew. The tents were owned by a British ex-pat named Mr. Cunningham, who took an interest in helping me repair Blair’s radio-control decoy.

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Behind Research, just outside the wire, there’s a small airstrip.

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Mount Kenya from camp. The second-highest (17,051 ft) mountain in Africa after Kilimanjaro, it was frequently obscured by cloud cover. I was told this was the clearest day in months, so I took advantage and a got a good view of the distinct triple-peak.

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Skulls wired to the rafters in the Research Center. That’s a reedbuck on the right, and a bushbuck on the left.

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Laundry on the line behind Research. A slightly less clear, but still visible, day for Mt. Kenya.

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The little green Maruti nicknamed “Frogger,” usually driven by Jenny Schieltz. The camel hump over the backseat had a pop-top for game viewing.

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The Yellow Fever acacia trees that dotted the landscape were stunning. Ol Pejeta had a few, though we saw whole groves farther south. The elephants give them a hard time, eating the bark off the trees and leaving them exposed.

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Morning in the marsh, dead tree in the foreground.

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This damn giraffe simply would not cooperate. With Blair down for the day with illness, I got to drive her Maruti around solo, finding a giraffe by the road on Scott’s plain. It would stand still just long enough for me to get my kit out, only to then amble farther down the road. This quickie was all I managed after a few attempts.

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Sunlight and shade on the bandas in camp.

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A storage paddock behind Research. The abandoned Coke cooler in the middle of a 90,000 acre nature conservancy was irresistible.

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The Whistling Thorn acacia (Acacia drepanolobium), whose long, scary spikes don’t seem to do very much to protect it anymore. It has turned to ant-based biological warfare.

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The view of the circular driveway from the Research Center (skull hanging from the rafters at the top).

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A banda in camp.

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Grant’s gazelles. Roughed in quickly since they were moving, and therefore uncooperative.

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