Part 2 of 2
Published Saturday magazine, Nation newspaper 30 December 2017
Above: Desert warthog
Copyright De Jong & Butynski
Learning more about lesser-known wildlife
There’s more than the Desert Warthog that we’re learning about in Lolldaiga and why it’s important to know all that makes for Kenya’s biodiversity.
“To be able to protect biodiversity,” states Yvonne de Jong of Lolldaiga Hills Research Programme “you need to know which taxa are where.”
“Lolldaiga Hills Ranch is particularly important in this regard,” adds Tom Butynski, also of the Lolldaiga Hills Research Programme, “in that, for its size, it holds the highest diversity of larger mammals of any place in the world.” (To be more specific -mammals with a body weight of more than 3 kg).
“The Desert Warthog is probably Africa’s least known non-forest large mammal,” continues Butynski, “A better understanding of the natural history of the Desert Warthog is not only of considerable scientific interest, it is important to the development of effective conservation and management plans for this species.”
De Jong and Butynski – both research scientists — in collaboration with other researchers, are working on species lists of what’s in the 550-square-kilometre Lolldaiga Hills Conservation Landscape in eastern Laikipia County…a conservation partnership among four ranches: Lolldaiga, Ol Naishu, Enasoit, and Ol Jogi.
Continuing with the drive to the waterhole, past herds of prime beef cattle and lovely sheep, we encounter herds of gazelles.
I blurt out Grant’s Gazelle but these are Bright’s Gazelle. I’ve never heard of them and even my respectable guidebook does not list them. And near them are larger russet-coloured Lelwel Hartebeest…and high in the ridges is another antelope that’s a rarity…Chanler’s Mountain Reedbuck…and then a few metres drive on, Smith’s Dik-dik…because at this point you do realize, everything is given its proper name.
So now we’re looking closely at the snout of the dik-diks. Smith’s dik-dik is found on the Laikipia Plateau and has a longer snout then Kirk’s Dik-dik. This elongated snout helps cool the airflow and hence the blood circulating in the body which enables this little antelope to survive in extremely dry and hot places where the temperature reaches 40 degrees centigrade.
With the sun full on and lying on the hot bare rocks is a pair of another rare creature – the Elementeita Rock Agama that’s only found in Kenya.
As we continue with this amazing game drive, we learn of the camera traps – a project with the Zoological Society of London – that are placed around to capture images of Lolldaiga’s little-known creatures and poachers.
In 2016, a camera trap captured a male Smith’s Dik-dik with a frosted coat…you can see these pictures transmitted via satellite to anywhere in the world as part of the Zoological Society of London’s Instant Wild Project. At this point, I’m feeling like an antelope-geek.
The camera-traps have also revealed for the first time animals that no one knew were here, like African Clawless Otter, Side-striped Jackal, a tiny antelope called Suni, and strange ones like the African Crested Rat that chews the roots and bark of the Poison Arrow Tree – highly toxic and one that traditional hunters used to kill Elephants. The rat then smears the lethal mixture on its specially adapted fur and any predator that decides to attack it is likely to not survive the bite.
Meanwhile, the birders choose to ignore the Lion and continue to the waterhole where it’s goose-galore with a Verreaux’s Eagle Owl perched on an acacia, geese and waders of many kinds, and beautiful Brown Parrots in flight. They actually are mostly green.
And then the excitement of catching the big raptors in the sky like the Black Eagle – another name for the Verreaux’s Eagle, Bateleur Eagle and various species of vulture.
The species list for the birds of Lolldaiga Hills Ranch include four ‘Critically Endangered’ species like White Backed Vulture and Ruppell’s Vulture – which means they are as rare as the Black Rhino.
“We’re working to get eastern Laikipia listed as the Lolldaiga-Mukogodo-Ewaso N’yiro Important Bird and Biodiversity Area,” says Butynski. “If approved, this would become Kenya’s 68th ‘Important Bird and Biodiversity Area.”
Ancient human’s left their rock art in caves high on the hills but the road’s too wet to reach there. I see my first striped hyena in the wild but not African Wild Dog. Although seen increasingly on the Ranch, I have yet to see one in the wild.
After breakfast, sitting on the grass by Lolldaiga’s biggest dams for a bit of birding, an Elephant emerges from the forest. In one frame, there are two endangered animals – the elephant and a pair of Grey Crowned Cranes–when a pair of Secretary Birds saunter in – a third endangered species. It’s surreal.
To Lolldaiga Hills Ranch
The Farm House sleeps eight comfortably in four rooms with a beautiful garden that kids love. Carry your food and hand to chef. Lolldaiga Hills Ranch is also open for camping, day safaris, and sundowners.
The guides will accompany you and reel out everything that Lolldaiga has to show.
It’s via Nanyuki – 200kms from Nairobi.