Day 1: Seeing Kenya from the Sky

Despite many travel delays, Smithsonian Secretary Clough arrives in Kenya ready to study the African wildlife at the Mpala Ranch

Smithsonian Secretary G. Wayne Clough travels to Nairobi, Kenya to understand the research programs and opportunities at the Mpala Research Centre. (Smithsonian Institution)

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We take lunch at the Research Center, a nearby complex of buildings with living quarters for students and visiting faculty, laboratories, computer rooms and an open-air dining hall. We are pleased to learn that the Smithsonian Women’s Committee provided funding for several of the buildings at the Research Center. After lunch we are treated to a series of talks that introduce us to the research done at Mpala.

At about 4 p.m. we break up and head out in Land Rovers on a “wildlife drive” to explore. Early on, we spot three cheetahs through binoculars. As we drive slowly along, the spotters on top of the vehicle thump the roof as a signal to spot if an animal is sighted. In some cases, you don’t really have to look very hard—elephants, gazelles and impala amble across the road at their pleasure. Others, like the beautifully colored bushbucks, shy from human contact. By the end of the wildlife drive, the list of species we have seen includes bushbuck, dik-dik, warthog, impala, giraffe , mongoose, scimitar-horned oryx , elephant, hippo , Cape buffalo, kudu , cheetah, hyenaand Grevy’s zebra (an elegant zebra with small black and white stripes). Remarkable!

We conclude the day with a wonderful al fresco dinner perched on a ridge overlooking a wide canyon. The air is sweet and the scenery distinctly Kenyan. With sunset, the temperature drops quickly and we crowd around a roaring fire. Finally, jet lag kicks in around nine and we call it an evening after an eventful day that we will long remember.


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