The generators had just turned off. Rhythmic sounds of the African night tried to lull me to sleep. I thought how blessed I was. Not everyone gets to travel to Kenya’s Meru National Park where George and Joy Adamson once lived and raised Elsa the lioness of “Born Free” fame. The movie had been my favorite when I was a kid – it’s when my fascination with Africa began.
It had been an eventful day. Our drive took us through Meru’s breathtaking diversity of grasslands, verdant swamps, areas of thick scrub and Acacia trees. We drove near the Tana river and through riverine forests with periodic doum palms.
We visited the cairn that signified the grave of Pippah, Joy Adamson’s cheetah. We saw reticulated giraffe, grevys zebra, the usual antelope, a few elephants, a multitude of birdlife and rhinos. But we did more than just see the rhinos, we sat on them!
Near the end of our game drive, our guides took the group to a small enclosure where several AK-47 armed rangers stood guarding three white rhinos. The rangers told us that if the rhinos didn’t have 24/7 guards they would be poached. That was 1983, by the mid-1990s the poaching war had obliterated Meru’s rhino and massacred 90 percent of its elephant population.
The rangers said the rhinos were docile and that we could pet them. I stared and could only think how hot it was, and that these magnificent beasts looked lethargic perhaps from the heat.
After leading us into the enclosure, the rangers motioned to us with their AK-47′s that we should sit on the back of one of the rhinos that had been laying down. Some of us obliged while others hung back batting at flies.
The rhino’s back was hard and unforgiving. He didn’t even flinch. I patted him, and wondered sadly if he felt used and if he would still be alive in another month.
Now in the darkness, under cool sheets, I thought, what a wonderful place this must have been during the 1960s when wildlife flourished. Yet today when I walked where the Adamsons no doubt had walked, I felt this park was still very special. I smiled to myself, and as I started to drift off to sleep, a lion roared.
In retrospect, this has to be one of the weirdest experiences I have ever had in Kenya.
Next week Meru National Park’s journey continues…