A week into this and now exhaustion takes a toll, sleeping in the jungle is normal. Your level of comfort is even enviable to the bushbucks. Data recording is divided into actual physical recording and upload to memory for later retrieval. You are used to the silence, too much of it. You laugh at inside monkey jokes all by yourself…..sigh, this is not even the worst of it… you just don’t know it yet.
Carrying food becomes a daunting task- you get to the forest while your jungle pals are not yet awake; since you have to catch them before they leave their sleeping site (read bed) and by the time you leave all the animals except you and the nocturnal ones are preparing for bed. Nobody tells you this! Nobody prepares you for this! It is not as glamorous as it looks on Nat Geo or those cool documentaries with the amazing graphics cool videography….now that I have that out where was I?
Day nine the silence is too much, you start conversing with the monkeys. I mean about deep stuff like the future of primates, conservation, global warming, and food security. By this time you refer to them by their “baptismal” names that you gave them during the excitement phase, if these names are hard to remember names of close family members and friends work just fine.
You’re on edge, jittery, too little sleep, too much silence, too many primates-not your kind. The monkeys are not even bothered by your presence you are a normal occurrence like the tree they feed on.
By day 12 your botanical skills are heightened, your food choices are strikingly similar to those of the monkeys. You no longer eat but forage. You methodically search for leaves, unripe fruits. You leave the monkeys in awe; they can only jealously stare at your scavenging skills. Water quality is not an issue, since you know the “medical sections” of the forest where you can get free doses 3 times daily to fight off any ailments the natural way; you stop for a drink by the murky river on your monkey search escapades.
You are very familiar with the communication signals of the monkeys you no longer talk but lip smack….you don’t realize that you are losing grip. Day 15 and the monkeys are watching you closely, every move you make.
Their imploring eyes are heavy with a big question.
Which side are you on?
You arrive chewing the bark of a medicinal tree/shrub you encountered. Everything is routine, you remember the data, you sit and look up, but this time the monkeys are looking down at you, smiling…..Welcome …
At first you are excited, elated, the adrenaline rush, the anticipation, the endless imaginations- blinding. The happy voices in your head help you paint a picture of how everything in the field will be like how much fun it will be!
It’s day one, you arrive right on time. You can’t get enough of the monkeys. Photography is done with precision and skill. You memorize all the names of your soon to be closest friends and their gender. Your neck is elevated for the entire day and the data- Impeccable. It is neatly and well done, artistic to say the least.
Colobus monkeys in Karura forest.
This is until the third day when no more photos are taken. The activities that one excited evoke no emotion at all. You start not to care so much and you carry a book with you- for company. Day five you are very much aware where each family resides. You can get there without any problem-just like home.
You choose a single spot where you set up for the day and observe. The energy levels from day 1 are nowhere to be felt. This time you bring some food. All the hormones, juices and whatever else that had clouded your judgment leading you to think it will be all smiles and glucose, dry up in your veins.
Exhaustion kicks in with a bang and just like the other primates; you choose a “sleeping site” close to your company for the day.
You wake up just in time to grab a bite; after eating to your fill you realize that your company scampered off during your jungle nap. You frantically search for monkeys (wishing they’d stop monkeying around)…then again…
Of late, I have been thinking critically of the reasons why I love and enjoy being in the jungle so much. I realized that there are some things that always happen when I am in the wild that always make me feel at ease, comfortable……
3. Silence& Solitude
Without great solitude no serious work is possible- Pablo Picasso
There is uninterrupted time to just sit and be quiet. One does not feel the need to keep talking. Silence is greatly appreciated and respected. Time to watch nature just do its thing is always there and spend doing nothing is time well spent in this case.
This is the kind of silence that gets your creative energy flowing, recharges you, gives you a positive drive and even makes one regain their self-confidence.
A camper’s corner in the thorny Twala during field school
2. No pressure to communicate: I happen to be most of the times in areas without or with minimal cell reception. This is more than perfect. The beauty of disconnection is one that cannot be described but you would have to experience all by yourself. No distractions or interruptions.
“You don’t need to respond.” This is the mantra that keeps me going.
1. Lose track of time: You have no idea what day, time or date it is. You are not constrained by time, deadlines…There’s no sense of urgency. This one is my favorite as it is the first thing that always happens when I am out in the wild.
What is the rush? Slow down breathe and take it all in….Lao Tzu did say it- Nature does not hurry, yet everything is accomplished!
> Stay Curious
No, she didn’t start of the way she is. She wasn’t as brave, daring and well controllably uncontrolled. She was definitely just as tough, confident and wildly curious. She is still known for her one million questions. Never relenting or backing down until she gets a satisfactory answer.
Questions? She loves them; this is how she learns, makes sense of and understands the world around her.
It all started about 2 years ago; she’d never been in the jungle before. Yet, the hunger, curiosity and anticipation that radiated from her eyes- were almost tangible.
What exactly did she expect to see or find?
She still vividly recalls her first experience. It was an hour’s walk to the campsite from the location where they leave their means of transport; in the home of a very kind and tender hearted Mr. &Mrs. Ndegwa. They had to carry all their gear, utensils and food stuff that they needed for two weeks with them to the campsite.
It was a camping trip at the foot of the very cold Aberdares- a non-designated campsite in the thicket. Wild brush adorned the place, and it had to be “designed” from scratch. This was the very beginning of the Colobus Chronicles that was going be part of her life for the next 2 years- she just had no idea yet.
She got to take this trip with her amazing Jungle teacher and mentor- Peter Fundi. She quickly learns the jungle mentor is a man of minimal emotional reactions. Everything in small doses- smiles, laughter, words….
It’s a bushy area with a small open patch of grass where she quickly pitches her tent. There are only 3 campers, she’s too excited and cannot keep still, the view, the trees, the sky she wants to go discover everything around her.
“Where’s the loo?” She innocently, yet quite seriously asks.
Without batting an eyelid, Fundi calmly picks up a panga, points to the entire thicket and hands it to her together with a roll of toilet paper.
In shock, she picks up her tools of trade, walks off into the forest.
Welcome to the wild real world, welcome. Everything around suddenly seemed to whisper…
When the jungle is your office you want to explore every bit of it. This is not always possible because you are on a mission to collect data not explore.
It so happens that as you are innocently collecting data on colobus monkeys wondering how you got there and how your family members respond when asked…so where is she?…you come across some very interesting things in the forest….
There have been a couple of things that I have come across that have brightened my day, others have just left me wondering…Am I next? The one thing that you can be assured of in the jungle is that….there is no guessing what just might happen next.
I came across this tortoise on an early morning. I was seated just staring at K group stare at me. Fun times. The distraction was greatly welcomed.
Always have gloves when in the field, never know when you might need a pair…..finding primate skulls is very usual and likely for you. This skull belonging to a Sykes monkey was by the river. It was quite decomposed and didn’t stink as much.
This one looked and was quite brutal. An eviscerated duiker. It was quite fresh and the odor, well not soft of the olfactory organs. This had been done by some stray dogs and everyone’s safety was at risk.
The forest scouts however ensured that all was well for everyone in the forest….except this duiker..
Still nothing beats coming face to face with a crocodile in the forest…the heavy rains that were experienced in Nairobi really did bring good reptilian tidings with them!
For some reason, let’s say because she is an optimist, she had this very ideal image of how the project would be like. The colobus monkeys were to go through the translocation smoothly. No deaths. No crazies. No weirdos. No killing fellow species mates. No stupid deaths. No getting left behind and a definite no-no; leopards! She was positive focusing on the good stuff. Happy thoughts, more like excessive happy thoughts. Well go it didn’t go exactly like that….not even close.
The first to fall victim was an infant from C group (the first family to arrive in Karura), this infant was killed by the dominant male in the D family. She couldn’t believe it, we didn’t bring you here to kill each other! We’re trying to save you; then again what did she expect? Mr. D wanted to take over a family and it is the infants that fall prey first. So nature happened.
He was the hugest male they had seen. Too bad he was a bit crazy. Monkeys and dogs don’t get along (is there a story/myth for how this happened?) Anyway, so while he was in the cage some people from the area came to “see” colobus monkeys up close; so one of them came to observe with his dog. It was not pretty. The colobus banged his head against the cage continuously until he fractured his skull and started bleeding from his eyes. He was dead by the time he got to Karura forest. Nature happened and something else. Crazy genes?
Then came the one who missed the branch and fell to his death! You are a monkey not a hippo! How do you miss? This she did not understand until she realized that these monkeys are moving from a habitat with shrubs mostly where they are forced to crawl, to a place where trees tower up to 80 m over the area, and in any case Kifo cha nyani …..miti yote huteleza
Then there was respiratory infection. This one she does remember. The threats they face every day from working with these primates became very real. Tuberculosis it was. The monkey died in the holding cage that had been set up in the forest. The rest of the family looked on and one even came to touch her. They had to release the rest of them immediately to prevent any infection. Immediately, the cage was closed for fumigation.
Colobus monkeys get attached to their dead. When any one of the females miscarried it was so difficult to get the dead fetus out of the cage. You have to be agile or release the animals first. Even after release they hang around the area where their fellow monkey died, still in view of the carcass.
In this case they actually did a post-mortem to identify cause of death; too much potato in the system. She wished it was a bad joke and asked Anthony to confirm the cause of death over and over again. She kept wondering if a lion can die of too much meat. Probably. This one is food poisoning and greed.
Then there was one who was found dead in the forest and another decided to die on a roof within the neighborhood. These are unsolved cases of colobus deaths.
When the leopard decided to show up in Kipipiri, it was on the definitely did not think about this list. He was a huge male leopard, and he stalked her once while she was innocently collecting data(story for another day). The leopard didn’t even feed on the colobus. He hangs it up a tree and leaves the carcass it there for all to see…like a warning or a threat. It was received loud and clear…
This is to all the fallen Colobus heroes. The monkeys who took the ultimate leap of faith and “agreed” to be captured; by design, ignorance or sheer stupidity no matter. Braved being in a cage with the hope of getting to a safer, cleaner and greener environment… Their hearts filled with hope, their faces filled with untold fear and terror.
Some were strong enough to start the journey, but not strong enough to complete it. Some were strong enough to get there but not strong enough to survive in Karura. Despite all this they deserved a great and decent burial.
Somewhere in the forest is where the “Colobus Dream Team” has set up what we call the Colobus Cemetery.
PS: The grass around the Cemetery is very green and lush.
What caused the death of these animals? I’ll keep you posted.