Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Mara - River of Death... and Life

Just this week, I returned to Kenya to join Chris at our field camp in the Mara. Last night, we sat on the "veranda" of our tent and watched a documentary called, "Mara - River of Death." (Unfortunately, you can't watch this from every country, but if you can watch it, you should check it out!)

This is a pretty spectacular documentary of the Mara River, and it does a great job of explaining the current state of the river and challenges it faces, while also just having a lot of amazing videography of all the wildlife the river sustains. This documentary was filmed by a fellow we met here in the Mara named Peter Glaub, a dedicated and passionate photographer and videographer who has spent many years here in the Mara.

This documentary also happens to be the same one my former boss, Michael McClain, sent me just before I moved to Kenya to start working on the Mara in 2008. I watched it at home alone in Texas, on the eve of this great new adventure, and I still clearly remember being filled with a combination of incredible awe and overwhelming panic. On one hand, the Mara is an incredible river that sustains "one of the world's last great ecosystems," and the opportunity to study this river and contribute to its conservation in some small way was a dream come true for me. On the other hand, I watched clip after clip after clip of mammoth crocodiles launching into the air to take down unsuspecting zebras, Thomson's gazelles and wildebeest, who surely had more natural instincts than me, whose only mistake was to come to the river for a drink. This was the river I was supposed to study? How do you study a river you can't even get into?

Six years later, I still feel a tremendous sense of awe in being able to work on the Mara River, and I still hold a tremendous amount of respect for the Nile crocodiles and hippos who truly call this river home. We have figured out how to work in this river in the safest manner possible, hiring armed rangers, using the same familiar sites, and taking a lot of time to study the river each time before cautiously entering only carefully selected areas. But today, as we worked at our most familiar study site at the Lower Mara Bridge, we watched a huge crocodile feasting on the body of a drowned wildebeest... in the place we normally get in the river to work.

It was a great reminder to hold onto those feelings I felt when I was first introduced to this river those six years ago-- the respect for the large wildlife in whose home I'm only a visitor, and the sense of awe and wonder at the opportunity to work here.

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