A little Garden of Eden
What you need to know:
- Earlier in the morning we watched a kettle of 24 vultures riding the hot thermals, soaring higher in the sky to scan for carcasses to scavenge.
- As they swirled and twirled in the air, on a Maasai giraffe grazed on the ground alongside a pair of Grey-crowned cranes and an African darter perched on a tree stump.
- It’s beautiful deeper in the Swara plains.
At first I think I must be seeing things but upon second look, I can see that I am looking at a Fringe-eared oryx mixed in a herd of eland and wildebeest.
It’s been a day full of surprises.
I once thought that we had only one kind of oryx, the Beisa, found in the arid regions north of the equator. It’s a beautiful big antelope with straight, sharp-pointed horns that can pierce the toughest of flesh without a problem. In the drylands, the Beisa oryx raises and lowers its body temperature to conserve its body fluids, which helps when you live in a hot place with so little water.
But the one on Swara Plains facing Lukenya Hill is a Fringe-eared oryx that’s found south of the equator – with tufts of hair lining its ears. Found around the Chyulu hills 150 kilometres south east of Swara Plains, it’s surprising to see it only a 45-minute drive out of Nairobi.
“We have six of them here,” says Jezz Simms of Swara Plains Acacia Camp, walking us down the path to show off another prize sighting of White-backed vultures on their nests atop the high yellow-barked acacia trees – with some feeding their chicks.
Earlier in the morning we watched a kettle of 24 vultures riding the hot thermals, soaring higher in the sky to scan for carcasses to scavenge. As they swirled and twirled in the air, on a Maasai giraffe grazed on the ground alongside a pair of Grey-crowned cranes and an African darter perched on a tree stump.
It’s beautiful deeper in the Swara plains. The birders in our group are awed by the many bird species now mainly found in protected spaces and that thrive in vast grasslands that are also needed by cattle to graze on. A grove of yellow-barked acacia is a nursery for giraffe calves – cute as babies can be – and Maasai ostrich strut the plains.
Standing by the main dam that’s dried up for the first time due to the drought, a warthog runs past with its tail held high like an aerial. Harvester ants walk in and out of their underground chambers through a patch of Red oat grass, storing the grain but leaving its husks outside. It’s a healthy grass for the cows and all.
We set up for picnic lunch picnic on a patch of green lawn, with herds of zebra, eland, wildebeest and Coke’s hartebeest within eyesight. It’s like being in the Garden of Eden.
“The conservancies in the area are trying to establish a big corridor across the Kitengela plains to Nairobi National Park,” says Simms. The corridor will help the wildlife move safely amidst the urban sprawl and avoid in-breeding, especially for the cheetah in the area – of which five were spotted last month.
We head back to Swara Plains Acacia Camp for a cup of coffee and enjoy a wander in the garden with their cottages dotted around us. It’s a really pretty place for a stay.