Thursday, August 27, 2009

Tanzania: Olduvai Gorge

We left the Ngorongoro highlands and traveled next to Olduvai Gorge which forms the eastern boundary of the Serengeti Plains. Olduvai Gorge is a rich archaeological site where Louis and Mary Leakey made an important fossil discovery in 1959. The jaw bone of an early hominid, australopithecus boisei, was unearthed and found to be 1.75 million years old. See Leakey Foundation website for more information on this. At the time, it was the oldest hominid remains that had been found, hence the moniker for Olduvai being “The Cradle of Mankind.” A small museum on site provided exhibits of fossils discovered and since that early discovery, many other fossils have been recovered from Olduvai and it remains an active archaeological dig site. Olduvai Gorge contains rich volcanic soil from the Ngorongoro Highlands which is one reason it was a site where hominid life evolved.
We were also taken down into the Gorge to the very spot where the fossils were found. Excavation and research is still ongoing in the gorge.
What I enjoyed most of all though at Olduvai Gorge was just standing on the rim of the gorge watching the Maasai herders walking their goats and donkeys below in the gorge. There is an ancientness and sense of timelessness to the gorge that is indescribable. The roots of our species are anchored here and I found it to be a very peaceful and interesting place to visit and experience quietly.Copyright©Kathy Stanley.
Tomorrow: Serengeti National Park
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Related Posts:
Tanzania: Serengeti National Park
Tanzania: Ngorongoro Crater
Tanzania: Tarangire National Park
Tanzania: Arusha National Park

Friday, August 21, 2009

Tanzania: Ngorongoro Crater

Leaving Tarangire, we drove through the Rift Valley and climbed the eastern wall of the Great Rift Escarpment up into the foothills of the Ngorongoro Highlands. We stopped at a look out point to view Lake Manyara, a large soda lake of 200 sq. km and then on into the highlands past farms with coffee, maize and banana crops. The Ngorongoro Highlands are the ancestral home of the Maasai people and we met them at rest stops selling their bright red blankets and passed them herding their cattle and goats through the area.
Encompassing 8,300 sq.km. the Ngorongoro Conservation area contains the famous Ngorongoro Crater (considered the “Eighth Wonder of the World”), Olduvai Gorge, and Laetoli, which together contain some of the richest archaeological sites for early hominids. The conservation area also contains the only active volcano in East Africa: Ol Doinyo Lengai (Mountain of God in the Maasai language), Olmati Crater, and the Northern Highlands Forest Reserve. Ol Doinyo Lengai recently erupted in September 2007 after a 40 year period of dormancy.

While called a crater, Ngorongoro Crater is more properly a caldera, 12 miles wide which was formed when the volcano collapsed inward on itself two million years ago. The soil is rich from volcanic ash and this supports the caldera’s approximately twenty thousand resident herbivores, elephants, black rhinoceros, hippopotamus, predators, primates, and birds. According to National Geographic’s video Africa’s Animal Oasis: “Ngorongoro is the very core of Africa. . . It’s as if all the continent was contained in a capsule. . .a latter day Eden.”
The National Audobon Society Field Guide to African Wildlife confirms: Its rim, which averages 7,600’ elevation, is cloaked in moist montane forest and grassland, hosting elephants, golden-winged and eastern double-collared sunbirds, stonechats, and Jackson’s widowbirds…At 5,600’ elevation, the crater floor is primarily grassland, with patches of spring-fed marshes, freshwater ponds, a salt lake and small forests. Harboring 20,000 large animals, it is a virtual Noah’s Ark (without giraffes).
Ngorongoro Crater was designated a World Heritage Site by UNESCO in 1978 and an International Biosphere Reserve in 1981. It is an incredible place to visit, for its sheer beauty, the animal haven that it is, and for its geological and historical importance. Our lodge was situated at the rim and I enjoyed spending time on the terrace at sunset and sunrise deeply imbibing the energy that emanates from this ancient and pristine volcanic crater. This is a special and very unique place on Earth, a magical place for nature-lovers to experience. It was also fun to use the binoculars and spot the animals on the crater floor. We spotted Black Rhino and Elephants fairly easily from the rim. After lunch at our lodge on the rim, we took a drive down into the Crater. We came upon warthogs, Thomson and Grant’s Gazelles, zebras, jackals, wildebeests, Coke’s Hartebeests, cape buffalo, lions sleeping on the side of the road, hippos in the lake, elephants, a leopard sleeping in a tree, a tawny eagle, marabou storks, lesser and greater flamingos and European Rollers.
Our two days spent in Ngorongoro Crater was a major highlight of the trip and we had good opportunities to observe many of the herbivores. Unlike the herbivores of the Serengeti, the wildebeests, zebras and gazelles in the Crater are residents and do not migrate beyond the Crater walls. The Crater provides an abundance of food and water and consists of savannah plains, a forest where elephant are seen and a large lake that supports hippopotamus and water fowl such as flamingoes. We also saw two black rhinocerous and our guides said that there are sixteen of them residing in the Crater. Due to the threat of poachers, the rhinocerous are checked on and counted each day by the park rangers. The population of rhinocerous in Tanzania has been decimated in the past by poaching as the horns fetch enormous sums on the black market in Asia.
We stopped and watched a herd of zebra with young ones. There was a young baby that seemed to have lost its mother and was calling for it. We were glad to finally see the reunion of Mom & baby. We also came upon a group of wildebeests with young calves. There were 3 Moms with calves who had just been born – they were literally hours old. The calves would stumble to their feet and prance around and then fall back down. And then get up again and do more prancing. One baby mistook a nearby wildebeest for its Mom and we watched as Mom came and gently guided the baby back to her. February is calving season for the wildebeests, therefore an ideal time to see this.
We then came upon 2 lion cubs about 6 months old. They were in some tall grass by the side of the road. They held us captive for a while as one decided to use our Land Rover for shade. We also saw hyenas today. One was sunning itself by the side of a pond and then we saw another one in its den. On our way out of the Crater, we stopped to watch a large troop of baboons who were sitting on a dead log by the side of the road. I think they were checking us out more than we were checking them out. There were several young ones frolicking around and they were very funny to watch.

In the Crater, we also observed a large monitor lizard, warthogs, hyenas The Crater proved to be an amazing self-contained ecosystem teeming with animals.

Interesting birds observed in the Crater included flamingoes, crowned cranes, cory bustards, tawny eagle and ostriches.Copyright©Kathy Stanley.
Tomorrow: Olduvai Gorge

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Monday, August 17, 2009

Tanzania: Tarangire National Park

From Arusha, we traveled south to Tarangire National Park. The scenery was spectacular with the Great Rift Escarpment to the west and the wide open spaces of the Rift Valley and the Maasai Steppe to the south. The Great Rift Escarpment is a fault in the earth’s crust that was formed twenty millions years ago and extends from the Middle East to Mozambique. According to The National Audobon Society Field Guide to African Wildlife:
“Temporary” features in geological time, rift valleys form when a landmass is splitting apart due to the divergent movements of tectonic plates. When the plates separate, the land in between drops, forming a rift in the earth’s crust. Africa’s rift valley is a long strip of land extending from the Dead Sea Area of Israel and Jordan south to Mozambique that is gradually dropping in elevation, causing the areas on either side to rise. The resulting friction has spawned volcanoes on the sides of the valley in certain areas. (30)

We passed Maasai cattle herders and bomas along the way and also came upon a flock of sacred Ibis birds with grey herons and also white European storks, a migratory bird from Europe.

Tarangire comprises approximately 2,600 sq.km. and is noted for its population of elephants (largest in Tanzania) and other herbivores. During the dry season, from July to November, the park receives herds of elephant, zebra, buffalo and gazelle that migrate in from the Maasai Steppe. The herds are drawn to the Tarangire River which is a main water feature of the ecosystem. Other interesting features of this park include baobab trees which store water in their expansive trunks, acacia woodlands, savannah, and plains

As soon as we drove into the park we saw a couple of small elephant herds taking shade from the sun under the big baobab trees for which Tarangire is renowned. We also saw Coke’s Hartebeests, a tall high-shouldered antelope with a long narrow head common in East Africa.
Then we spotted two lions also taking shade inside the hollow of a baobab tree. This was our first lion sighting and what a good one! While lions are usually not considered to climb trees like leopards, in Tanzania there are several areas where this is becoming more commonly seen. Manyara National Park, a small park to the west of Tarangire, has several prides that are seen in trees and we observed a lion pride in an acacia tree in the Serengeti. They climb trees to gain respite from tsetse flies that inhabit the grass and brush on the ground.

In addition to lions, we observed one leopard which was resting in the branches of an acacia tree. This is typical leopard behavior and they will take the body of their prey up the tree with them to protect it from other predators. Unlike lions who travel in prides of six to eight individuals or more, leopards are mostly solitary animals except during the mating season when pairs may be seen together.
We came upon several herds of elephants one morning. There were about one hundred of them gathered on a savannah area and we observed as groups of females with calves took their turn to drink at a small pond. Groups of eight to twelve individuals would drink for a few minutes and then move off to allow another group to the pond. We also observed two young males that were charging at each other. Mothers and daughters form bonds that can last for a lifetime. Mature males do not typically travel with the females but are solitary.
We saw many herds of impala. Impala herds typically consist of one dominant male with a “harem” of females. Young males typically stay with their mothers in the herd for a few weeks and then are chased out by the dominant male. The young males then form their own herd of “bachelors” until they mature and individually move on, forming their own herd of females.
We stayed in Tarangire for two days, staying overnight at a wildlife lodge which was not fenced. On the lodge grounds, we observed a family of Kirk’s Dik Diks that had made the periphery of the grounds their territory. These miniature antelopes with large eyes are the smallest of the African antelopes. They appear to be no bigger than a medium sized dog. They mate for life and do not venture from their territory which they stake regularly with dung.
Savanna baboons and vervet monkeys were widely seen in the park and were common visitors to the wildlife lodge. Troops of vervets and baboons typically contained about fifteen individuals. Vervets are small monkeys with long tails and are usually seen in trees while baboons are much larger spending more of their time on the ground.
Both species are highly opportunistic in foraging for food and human lodging with food attracts them, hence their presence at the lodge. I watched one baboon troop as a dominant male became aggressive. He charged his opponent with a loud scream and the opponent fled. Aggressive behavior is used to enforce dominant status between males that compete to mate with the females.
Bird life in Tarangire is very abundant with over four hundred species identified within its area. Birds we observed included the red billed quelea, lilac breasted rollers, superb starlings, yellow collared lovebirds, white headed buffalo weaver, bare-faced go-a-way bird, magpie shrike, Von der Decken’s hornbill, oxpeckers, woodland kingfisher, ashy starlings and wattled starlings.

I watched a young martial eagle perched in a tree in the savannah. The largest eagle of the African savannah, he was surveying the savannah floor for his prey. Eventually he widened his majestic wings and swooped off to catch something on the savannah floor.
We were lucky to see a flock of lesser masked weaver birds who were building their nests in a tree at the lodge. The male weavers are very industrious nest builders. Nests are constructed from strands of long grass that are taken one at a time and brought by the male to the nesting site. The strands of grass are then intricately woven to form a basket-type nest that hangs from the tree. As the nests are nearing completion the females arrive to inspect the nests and the males compete loudly for their attention while hanging outside of the little basket nest. The one tree at the lodge had over twenty of these small nests under construction. The nests are used only once.
Copyright©Kathy Stanley
Tomorrow: Ngorongoro Crater
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Friday, August 14, 2009

Tanzania: Arusha National Park

A few years ago, I traveled to South Africa and spent ten days on safari in the Kruger National Park and Sabi Sand Reserve. Spending time with African wildlife in their natural habitat was life-changing and instilled a strong desire in me to support wildlife conservation and contribute in positive ways to raising awareness on wildlife issues. I then traveled to Tanzania with World Wildlife Fund on a members field trip tour of four major conservation areas, including the World Heritage Sites of the Serengeti and Ngorongoro Crater. These East African ecosystems contain two of the most significant concentrations of wildlife remaining in the world. To witness the astonishing spectacle of the wildebeest migration in the Serengeti, where two million herbivores migrate yearly through the ecosystems of the Serengeti and Masai Mara Reserve in Kenya, on their quest for food and water was one of the most amazing experiences of my life. I wrote a fairly long field trip report (which earned me a bunch of university credits :-) ) and some of the highlights and pictures will be posted here over the next few days.
In an effort to protect and manage their rich natural resources and abundance of wildlife, the government of Tanzania designated twenty five percent of the country’s land mass to conservation by establishing several National Parks in the 1950s’ to early 1960s’. The northern region of Tanzania contains five of these national parks and I visited four of these: Arusha National Park, Tarangire National Park, Ngorongoro Crater, Serengeti National Park and the archaeological site of Olduvai Gorge which is located between Ngorongoro Crater and Serengeti National Park.
The common species that we observed in all of these regions included herbivores such as wildebeests, various types of antelopes, zebras and giraffes. We observed elephants in all parks except in Arusha and two rare black rhinoceros were observed in Ngorongoro Crater. Predators such as lion, leopards, cheetahs and hyenas were observed in Tarangire, Ngorongoro and the Serengeti.

Arusha National Park
Our safari field trip began with visiting Arusha National Park. This small, lush park is set in a 53 square mile area that includes Mt. Meru, a dormant volcano, Ngurdoto Crater, an extinct volcanic caldera, equatorial forest, and the alkaline Momela Lakes. We were fortunate to get a view of snow capped Mt. Kilimanjaro in the distance to the east as we arrived near the entrance of the park. Kilimanjaro at 19,341 ft., is the highest mountain in Africa.

The ecosystem of Arusha National Park contains a variety of features including equatorial forest that support rare black and white colobus monkeys, blue monkeys and red forest duikers. Our first sightings in the park were of giraffe, warthogs, zebra and cape buffalo, all together on a small plain area known as the Little Serengeti. Predators are rare as there are no lions, however, a few leopards and hyenas reside in the area. Arusha National Park used to be famous for its rhinocerous population, however, due to poaching, none remain in the area.
Primates
The main reason for our visit to this park was to observe the black and white colobus monkeys and to go on a guided bush walk. As we drove through the forest we came upon three of the colobus monkeys. They have long, black and white hair and were engaged in their grooming activity. Each was engaged in grooming another. At one point, one lay horizontal on the branch so that the one performing the grooming could have easier access to its stomach and hind areas. We spent some time in our vehicles observing them. Our presence nearby did not deter them and they did not disengage from this activity the whole time we were there.
Antelopes
An interesting antelope that we were able to observe in this park was the Red Forest Duiker. A small antelope, about three feet tall, they have red coloring on their body and black around the back of the head and tail. They are a forest dweller and are not seen on the plains. We came upon two of them as they were foraging in the forest.
Wild Cattle
After lunch at the Momela Lodge, built for the filming of the John Wayne movie "Hatari" back in the 1950’s, we took a side trip to a hippo pool and caught sight of a couple of elusive hippos who didn’t give us a lot of chance to see them, as they were submerged in the water.

A highlight of the trip to Arusha National Park was the opportunity to go on a bush walk. Guided by armed rangers, we walked close to a herd of cape buffalo who were grazing. A massive bovine species, cape buffalo are considered one of the most dangerous species to humans in Africa.
They have a tendency to charge and can easily overpower an opponent when they feel threatened and use their thick, sharp horns to inflict damage. The herd stayed close together which is a method of protecting themselves and their calves from predators such as lions and hyenas.
Giraffes
We observed several giraffes in the park. These tall ruminants tower over all other species reaching heights of up to 18’. They were feeding on the tops of acacia trees with their long tongues that can reach tree branches as high as 19’.
Birds
Birds sighted in the park included the African crown eagle, pied crows, African goshawk, blacksmith plovers, spur winged geese, Egyptian geese, Hadadah Ibis, saddlebills storks, pelicans and silvery cheek hornbills.
Copyright©Kathy Stanley
Tomorrow: Tarangire National Park
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Tuesday, August 11, 2009

NRDC: Ocean Acidification: The Other CO2 Problem

NRDC: Ocean Acidification: The Other CO2 Problem

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From NRDC website:
Earth’s atmosphere isn’t the only victim of burning fossil fuels. About a third of all carbon dioxide emissions are absorbed by the earth’s oceans, where they’re having an impact that’s just starting to be understood.

Over the last decade, scientists have discovered that this excess CO2 is actually changing the chemistry of the sea and proving harmful for many forms of marine life. This process is known as ocean acidification.

A more acidic ocean could wipe out species, disrupt the food web and impact fishing, tourism and any other human endeavor that relies on the sea.

The change is happening fast -- and it will take fast action to slow or stop it. Over the last 250 years, oceans have absorbed 530 billion tons of CO2, triggering a 30 percent increase in ocean acidity.

Before people started burning coal and oil, ocean pH had been relatively stable for the previous 20 million years. But researchers predict that if carbon emissions continue at their current rate, ocean acidity will more than double by 2100.

The polar regions will be the first to experience changes. Projections show that the Southern Ocean around Antarctica will actually become corrosive by 2050.

Watch Acid Test on Discovery Planet Green:

8/12 at 10:30pm ET/PT
8/13 at 5:30pm ET
8/15 at 6:30pm ET
8/16 at 10:30am ET
8/23 at 7pm ET
8/26 at 10:30pm ET/PT
8/27 at 5:30pm ET
8/29 at 6:30pm ET
8/30 at 10:30am ET

Saturday, August 8, 2009

Mangos and Coconuts

When I started down the road on this blogging adventure back in April, I had no idea of the twists and turns it would lead me in terms of the variety of things I thought I would or could write about. Since this Labrish blog has become more diverse than I expected, I had the idea of starting a new blog just devoted to poems. I cordially invite you to check out Mangos and Coconuts, my new poetry blog. Labrish will continue to be for everything else. Who knows what’s coming next. :-) Enjoy...

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Breitenbush Hot Springs . . . and a Jamaican Connection

Sacred hot spring pools of mineral-rich water that leave you feeling cleansed and healed from the burdens of the world.

Hiking trails through groves of old-growth cedars.

A sparkling and pristine river with icy, refreshing glacial water pouring out from the mountaintops of the high Cascades.
Rustic cabins nestled within a cathedral of tall trees.

A community of workers/owners dedicated to sustainability and right stewardship of this exquisite 154 acre parcel of land.
These statements are only a small description of what I found at a recent visit to Breitenbush Hot Springs in the central Cascade Mountains of Oregon.
The magical water that bubbles out of the earth into the beautiful rock pools is like no water that I had ever experienced before. It took me by surprise. I had heard this was a special place but my experience was so healing, relaxing and rejuvenating, that on my return home, I immediately booked a return visit.
Another delightful surprise was meeting Margaret Duperly, a Jamaican woman who has lived and worked at Breitenbush for many years. Jamaicans are truly everywhere! Even in the rural depths of the Oregon forest. Margaret is one of the Event Coordinators at Breitenbush and when I asked her about what was important for the people who live and work here, she directed me to their Credo, which they strive to embrace daily. An excerpt of the Credo:

We see ourselves as guardians of Breitenbush Hot Springs, safeguarding the Earth and healing water, assuring their continued availability to all beings who respect them. Our primary service is to provide a healing retreat and conference center that promotes holistic health and spiritual growth and facilitates the gathering of people in celebration of the experience of life.
Breitenbush is a sustainable community that is completely off the grid. How do they do it? From harnessing the energy from the water. From their website:
The power of the river and heat from the hot springs combined with simple living allow us to thrive in this sanctuary without significant dependence on fossil fuels. Our small hydroelectric plant produces about 40 kilowatts, the amount of electricity typically used in three urban homes. And yet it supports a community of over 55 full time residents and up to 135 guests. In its early years (1977-1980), the Breitenbush Community drilled several geothermal (literally “heat from the earth”) wells and developed the technology to use that natural hot water to heat our buildings. Today over 100 buildings, from the guest cabins to the greenhouse are kept cozy year round making Breitenbush the largest privately owned geothermal facility in the Pacific Northwest.
From my brief first visit, I can attest to the fact that the circle of community members at Breitenbush are more than achieving their mission. This city-dweller who craves time and healing in nature is so grateful for their efforts to preserve and offer this magical place for the rest of us. Copyright©Kathy Stanley.

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