Today begins a new series, written by Houston Zoo Primate Supervisor Lynn Killam, who took a November trip to Africa to visit the national parks in Rwanda. Sit back and settle in, as through these blog posts, we can almost feel as if we’ve gone there too.
African air has a distinctively unique scent: earthy, slightly smoky, full of humanity and diesel, with notes of forest and swamp. The aroma hit me immediately upon disembarking from the plane in Kigali, the bustling capitol of the tiny, landlocked country of Rwanda. I had come to visit all of the National Parks with two traveling companions (former Zoo Primate Curator Barbara Lester and former Reptile Supervisor Paul Freed, married years ago and now retired together) during a two week stay.
Starkly black and white Pied Crows were the first birds to greet us as we met our guide, also named Paul, and began our journey through this most remarkable land. It was quickly apparent that Rwandans welcome foreigners: children waved excitedly and gave us the thumbs-up sign as we rode over newly paved, fastidiously clean streets. One would never guess until speaking with the local populace that genocide had occurred here in 1994; but it permeates the national psyche and history is referred to as “before” and “after”. Still, this place is healing, and undergoing a quiet transformation as the people and the natural environment recover from the damage.
Akagera National Park was our first stop. This savannah-and-forested plane in the northeastern part of the country adjoining Tanzania had been devastated during the genocide, with wildlife being indiscriminately slaughtered. Recovery has been slow, and still continues; giraffe and zebra have been reintroduced and lions will soon follow. But, sightings of hoofstock from oribi (small klipspringer-like antelope) and waterbuck to buffalo and eland were frequent and hippopotami were plentiful in the lakes.
Birding was spectacular here, and the elusive shoebill stork is a resident, although very difficult to see. Troops of Olive baboons (Papio hamadryas anubis) were commonplace and their antics entrancing to watch, and Vervet monkeys (Chlorocebus aethiops) wandered through the savannah and were equally easy to observe. One daytime trip in a small boat turned enthralling when two rival hippos decided to fight just meters from us, and another unnerved us by coming precarious close to the boat!
Night game drives brought some unexpected finds: a close up view of a lone serval on a hunt, as well as several glimpses of hippos on land, feeding nocturnally on grass.
Our last day brought a jolt of adrenaline when we came upon a large herd of elephants with several tiny calves. A huge bull stopped us in our tracks by placing his body sideways in the road, as if to make it firmly clear that we were not to pass.
An indignant cow, teats full of milk, came charging past him towards us, as Paul hit reverse…fast. We stopped at what we thought was a safe distance away, only to have another bull tear through some bushes directly on our left side, his enormous bulk approaching at an alarming speed as our car was again forced to retreat.
We sweated through a few tense minutes while realizing that we were surrounded on 3 sides by the herd; all of us silently contemplated probably futile evasive action should we be charged again. All was quiet after nearly a half hour wait, and Paul cautiously proceeded ahead, this time with only a juvenile giving us a good head toss and mock-charge as we passed, as if to say “and the horse you rode in on!”
Editors note: This is the first in Lynn’s multi-part blog series. Check back for the next installment, to be posted later this week!
Written by Lynn Killam, Primate Supervisor
Photos by Barbara Lester and Paul Freed
More Posts Like This!
- FOTO FRIDAY Caption Challenge Winner of the Week Welcome to the FOTO FRIDAY Caption Challenge results post from Friday, January 28! Last Friday, we posted a photo on Facebook and...
- Primate Paradise in Rwanda’s Nyungwe Forest National Park In November, Houston Zoo Primate Supervisor Lynn Killam went with friends to visit the National Parks in Rwanda, Africa. This...
- VIRUNGAS NATIONAL PARK, part two The visit to Virungas National Park in Rwanda continues for Houston Zoo Primate Supervisor Lynn Killam. A very exciting day...
- Volunteer Extraordinaire Series Meet Paul. That’s him in front of the entry foyer tank at Natural Encounters. You may be scratching your head, as...
- Meerkat Mob’s Keepers The meerkats kits are continuing to display exceptional cuteness and are ranging farther and farther around their exhibit. The whole...