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A special day in the Mwaluganje Sanctuary.

Posted by Bufo bufo 
A special day in the Mwaluganje Sanctuary.
October 16, 2004 03:04AM
The African sun was beginning to brighten the sky over Mombasa, twenty miles to the east as I wandered to the patio on the escarpment overlooking the rolling country 1000 feet below. My morning tea tasted especially good as I contemplated the day ahead. Wisps of cloud cast shadows over the Pemba River as it meandered through the low rolling hills of the Mwaluganje Forest. There are 200 elephants starting to take in their daily 300 pounds of food down there and some of them are outside the sanctuary fence. Some dozen or so are still in conflict with the local population of farmers and have to be encouraged to live inside the protected area of the Mwaluganje Elephant Sanctuary.

The sanctuary is an innovative concept due to the fact that the local cultures, the Duruma and Digo people, have become involved along with other local landowners, the Kwale County Council, local politicians and the Kenya Wildlife Service to create Kenya's first community involved game park. Eden Wildlife Trust, through Executive Director Ted Goss, set the ball rolling two years ago and now the preserve is a reality. The 60,000-acre sanctuary will operate much like any other eco park and visitors will be able to see not only an abundance of elephant and local small animals but also a Digo/Duruma sacred site and a wide variety of vegetation including prehistoric cycads. Shimba Gallu Safaris in Kwale is testing the market for both vehicle and walking safaris.

This morning however there would be no tourists only fifteen game rangers from Tsavo and Shimba Hills National Parks armed with rifles and thunder flashes patrolling the fence line. Ted Goss will be flying the Hughes 500 C helicopter with me in the right seat. The plan is to locate the errant elephants from the helicopter and drive them through a gap deliberately left in the electric fence into the protected area. We would be in radio communication with the rangers on the ground as well as a base unit in the Trust's Land Rover. After finishing the tea and checking camera gear I went up to the orange grove behind the house, which also serves as a helipad, to help with preparations for take off. Ted is fuelling the machine as I begin pulling off the covers that protect the Plexiglas from the coastal sun.

This beautiful morning in early June the sky is clear after the end of the recent rains and the country we are to fly over is bright green with new grass and foliage. The elephants might be difficult to find but we have a good idea where they are from information the rangers had been given by the local farmers. The fuelling is complete and the forward doors removed from the helicopter so there is only the pre-flight and the start up. With the helicopter lightly loaded we take off into the wind that is gentle from the ocean and the helicopter banks sharply right out over the escarpment.

The sun is higher now and we are not affected by the low glare that I thought would be a problem for sighting and photographing the elephants. As we drop down over the Mwaluganje I test the seat belts again for ease of movement, as I would be swinging the camera to and fro when we spot the elephants. I also test them for security as the helicopter might be making aerobatic manoeuvres while herding the big tuskers. All is as I would wish it and I am perfectly happy looking down through the clear air onto the Africa I had also known for thirty years. It is good to be back and a privilege to be flying over the elephants.

There are two bulls fifty feet below me swinging around to face the sound of the helicopter; I press the intercom button to indicate the bulls as Ted is looking in the other direction at another large tusker. We bank around and pull up a little higher so as not to stampede the animals in different directions. To my right another lone bull is feeding in the hardwoods, he too is pointed out to the pilot who is now concentrating on moving the helicopter sideways because of the increasing tail breeze.

The Ndofu (elephant) are moving up a ridge to the east instead of north to the fence and there are two more behind us feeding on the almost ripe maize crop. Our helicopter makes a big circle out over a shamba (small farm) where the locals are watching the excitement. The problem is that they are standing in the elephants' line of advance. The Digo farmer had to be moved for his own safety so we fly low over his mkuti thatched buildings, aware that if we get too close the rotor's downwash might create serious consequences for the palm leaf roofs. Eventually he gets the message and takes his family out of harm's way and we manoeuvre to herd these animals towards the others heading for the ridge.

Once over the tree covered ridge we can see the rangers on the ground all ready to use the thunder flashes if they have to since they can now see the tuskers. We fly lower and continue to push the reluctant animals towards the sanctuary. They are disinclined to move close to the fence and the wind makes it difficult for us to hover ahead slowly. It is easier to move the machine sideways and very slowly we encourage the small herd towards the gap in the fence. Time and time again one of the bulls would swing away, raising his trunk in the air scenting the helicopter and we have to make the aerobatic manoeuvres I was expecting in order to entice him to return to the others.

Flying just above the trees and the heads of the elephants, the breeze that had increased to a wind is presenting a little difficulty in that we are not entirely in complete charge of the direction of flight, the elephants are. The big animals swing and wheel this way and that; they were not cooperating at all. However the ancient helicopter and its experienced pilot completes the task within a couple of hours. With the big tuskers well inside the fence that is already being closed behind them by the rangers, we are on our way back up to the house on the escarpment and looking forward to our favourite mid day refreshment - what else but Tusker beer!

© Michael Wilkey
Re: A special day in the Mwaluganje Sanctuary.
October 16, 2004 05:49AM
That was a nice story Bufo Bufo.

Where did you find it?

Re: A special day in the Mwaluganje Sanctuary.
October 16, 2004 04:47PM
Scroll down on this page and there are many stories concerning Kenya life. An area of interest to me as I have friends involved in Wildlife conservation in Kenya.

As a side note, my son is friends with the son of the pilot's (Ted Goss) niece.
Re: A special day in the Mwaluganje Sanctuary.
October 16, 2004 04:51PM
guess I should include the link !

Re: A special day in the Mwaluganje Sanctuary.
October 16, 2004 10:31PM

Thank you so much.

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