One of my best days yet in Kenya was the evening I first flew over the wild and wonderful African bush in the resident gyrocopter!
A gyrocopter is a very small and light bubble-like aircraft with only two seats, a propeller and a tail. From the large window that surrounds you, you have a nearly unobstructed, Omnimax-type view of the world. You fly only 200 feet above the ground. (It is awesome – but not for one with a fear of flying!)
Going for a flight over the Wildlife Works project area was thrilling and an experience I will honestly remember forever.
It is such a different view of the land below. From the ground, the bush seems dense and impenetrable. From above, you can clearly see that all the shrubs and trees are evenly spread, maximizing the little water that’s available. Also, as the land is drying out in the dry season, everything has turned to an ashy grey color. It’s bizarre to see a whole landscape that is pure grey. It looks dead and barren, but I know it’s teaming with life.
And seeing herds of elephants from the air is just incredible. From the ground, they don’t seem to fit into the landscape – they are so big, they tower over the shrubs and are the same height as many of the trees! But from the air, I could barely see them moving just under the canopy. Keith, the gyrocopter pilot (and my good friend!), kept saying, “ele’s, up ahead, to the right, take a picture!” In my head, I was like whaaaaaat, but out loud I was saying, “cool, will do!… Um, where are they???”
At any one time there are up to 2,500 elephants within the 500,000 acres of the Wildlife Works’ Kasigau REDD+ project area, and it is a critical migration route between Tsavo East and Tsavo West National Park. The parks are home to 12,000 elephants, which is half of Kenya’s population.
I’ve always heard about poaching, I’ve known it happens and is a problem. But I’ve known this theoretically and never had a frame of reference to hold on to. It’s crazy to be here in Kenya and be part of an organization working to prevent it. Poaching is still so real.
Luckily, there has not been a poaching incident in over 6 months here, but on that first flight I was shocked by the number of elephant skeletons below – they honestly litter the landscape.
The aerial surveillance program, where Keith flies the gyro twice a day most days and in total around 60 hours a month, is one of the ways in which Wildlife Works protects the land and wildlife in the project area. By having eyes in the sky so frequently, Keith supports and guides the ground team of 85 rangers in monitoring all of the human and natural activities.
This work is vital for:
- Spotting elephants injured in a poaching incident, with recent bullet, poison arrow or spear, or snare wounds
- Spotting snared animals of any sort (read my first blog about rescuing a snared buffalo!)
- Spotting illegal logging and charcoal activates
- Security and visual support in any ground missions to apprehend loggers or poachers
- Monitoring elephant and other wildlife movements
- Monitoring the significant species on the property, including the very endangered Grevy Zebra of which numbers are down to around 2,000, around 60 of which are found on this land
This first flight was pretty awe-inspiring – the moment when we took off and I stopped gaping at the ground below us as we rose and I looked out ahead as the vast expanse of Tsavo opened up ahead. It is truly amazing living on the edge of such wilderness.
Things I have now seen from the air (take a look at the pictures and video!), lots of these are at water, because water is a pretty reliable place to find animals, it draws them out of the wood(work).
- Herds of elephants, up to 60 at a time and some swimming and drinking in dams (watering holes). It was been beautiful to see elephants relaxed and at ease in the wild
- Eight lions that had made a kill of a buffalo and eaten the bones clean!
- Giraffe trying to drink at a dam, the way they splay their legs and bend over is a hilarious sight
- Ostrich eggs in a massive nest, I was really surprised by how open and exposed it was
- A dazzle (that’s actually the name for a group!) of zebra galloping
- Lots of elephant skeletons.
I’ve made a little video of the flight. At the end you can see where I’m living, nestled under the hill. (Silly wordpress won’t let me add a video unless I pay a monthly subscription, so check out the video on my facebook)
P.S. Keith just came and asked me if I want to join him on his flight tonight… to find cheetahs! Cheetah is one of the few animals I have yet to see in Kenya, and I’ve been on the hunt to find. Hopefully I will have good news later.