Above: Kitale Nature Conservancy police. Copyright Maya Mangat
Published: 26 January 2019
It’s been an exciting night camping in Saiwa Swamp National Park sandwiched between Mount Elgon and the Cherangani Hills. After a filling breakfast at the roadside kiosk near the park, we’re off to Mount Elgon, Africa’s eighth highest peak. A sign near Kitale perks our interest – it’s Kitale Nature Conservancy.
Driving in through the façade cum drive-way that features animal statues, a pot-bellied policeman with a tire sandal and a shoe on each foot is at the entrance and a land rover with a seemingly drunk driver. These are statues and really satirical. At the same time, l’m curious whether we’re in an art gallery or a nature conservancy.
The receptionist assures us we’re in a nature conservancy and an arrow points to the nature walk that’s a few kilometres long through a woodland and a five-acre wetland. A few metres away to the nature trail there’s a colourful scene from biblical times.
Before we get to the holy mountains, our ancestors ranging from the Australopithecus to the Homo including us, the Homo sapien sapien, are lined to show human evolution over millions of years. It calls for more photo shoots with the life-size ancestors. A side step and the botanical garden is full of trees – many indigenous and some exotic – some 800 species according to the list.
And then there’s a burst of colour and figures from the biblical times – Jesus and the saints, the saga of the nailing and a lot more. I’m dazzled with the rich expo.
On the nature trail, it’s really peaceful with an earth-coloured stream meandering it. A quiet patch under the trees is for meditation and signs point to a boat for a sail on the river. But the boat is nowhere to be seen. Instead a sign on a tree reads ‘mind your fourhead’. There are few more of these misspelt signs but they add humour along the trail including the one for ‘leg speed at 2 km per hour’. The forest opens to the wetland over several rickety bridges.
The wetland is for the rare marsh antelope – the sitatunga – a home. A gorgeous jewelled flycatcher, herons and a pair of the stately Grey crowned cranes enjoy the swamp. Grey crowned crane numbers have crashed by 80 per cent in the last two decades on the continent.
And then along the narrow path, a herd of Ankole cattle with enormous horns browse. They are just too close for comfort. The herd, we are told by a guide, are a gift from President Museveni across the border in Uganda. The dangerous-looking horned cows aren’t bothered by us and continue grazing. It takes a while for them to move off the path and we make a dash past them. At the end of the trail that opens to a huge grass field, we find children patting the ‘dangerous’ looking Ankole cows.
Across the field are the cages for animals either rescued or deformed. The pair of lions – female and male strut the wire cage as does the neighbouring spotted hyena. The rare deBrazza monkey – a denizen of the old indigenous forest is at a loss where to rest because the forked tree trunk has no place for it to lie. The Grey crowned cranes are so pretty that many pose for pictures by their cage. The Maasai ostriches are terribly bored biting on the wire fence.
Two hours later, we’re back to our starting point and looking up at the roof is a cooking huge pot. The characters standing by it are happy not to be cooking inside the pot.
It’s a busy place with many a Kitale family out for the day.
It’s also heart-warming to see the effort of the person who has established the conservancy to raise awareness about the natural world. Scrolling through the website, Mr Boniface Ndure a retired primary school teacher has a vision to turn the conservancy into a leading place for the environment and biodiversity.
The only thing l would say is that the animal cages need to be better designed. Otherwise, it’s got humour, a lot of information and is fun to be at.