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Barrack Obama returned to Kenya as President of America, and stood with Kenyan President Kenyatta today addressing the future of this challenged east African nation. Much has changed and much remains muddled since we visited in 2004 and 2006, traveling the country extensively, from Nairobi to Lake Victoria and from Mount Kenya to Mount Kilimanjaro, meeting with ordinary Kenyans and leaders in business and conservation, and writing an impressionistic essay on the experience that I presented before the Chicago Literary Club in 2007. Climate change was melting the snows atop Mt. Kill then, as now. The vast migrating herds were threatened by poachers and the march of modernization. The ancient tribal culture was threatened by modern politics and terrorism, then as now. And corruption was endemic from top to bottom of the culture then, as it apparently still is , since the President of the U.S. felt it necessary to focus on it in his remarks to the press today. Kenya is a beautiful country with a unique heritage, confronting local rivalries as well as global change, and both engaged and threatened by modernization. Kenya is a wonderful place to visit, and can importantly broaden your world view. Vicki and I recommend you do visit and enjoy this gem of natural beauty, while respecting their land and peoples.
The NBC news tonight reported that the population of giraffes has dropped by 40% in just 10 years, to about 80,000. When I took this photo of giraffes out on the great Masai Mara plain of Kenya about 10 years ago, and wrote about our safari it in an essay titled “The Masai Mara Hood Ornament,” I reported that wildlife in East Africa was then down about 60% since the 70s. Why? Climate change, human development, poaching, legal hunting. If the global human population had dropped as much over the past 10 years, we would have seen almost 3 billion people die. While the loss of so many of these magnificent animals is shocking in itself, perhaps their devastation makes them canaries in a coal mine:for mankind.
Everyone is taking about the new film, Intersteller, about a dying earth and the search for another planet for our species. A recent episode of The Newsroom dramatized the announcement, over a year ago, that carbon levels in the atmosphere and their consequences for mankind may be irreversible. And meanwhile we spend more and more on war and see renewal of primitive tribalism all around the globe, despite the internet and global communication.
I’d like to think there will still be giraffes, and people around to watch such wonderful animals, in the next century. What might we do to increase the probability of that?. .
A lion we encountered on the plain of the Maasai Mara several years ago. He seemed to be contemplating lunch — either the one he had just enjoyed, or the one he was about to find. Obviously, we weren’t it that day. While it looks like a nice little kitty, this specimen probably weighed in at 150 to 200. And yes, we got this close, but in a Land Rover with a savvy guide and driver.