Back at home in Massachusetts, the sight of rain falling outside my window often elicits a groan of disappointment. The rain will dictate whether I will drive versus bike, wear rain boots instead of flats, take a hike or stay in to watch a movie, and other fairly insignificant adjustments to my daily existence. Here in Samburu, though, rain is life. As soon as the rain begins to fall, it seems that new, bright green shoots of grass emerge from the recently quenched soil. The conflicts over resources, mainly food and water, that were fiercely present days before, subside, as wildlife returns to the park and the herders can move from the park boundaries.
The typically oppressive heat of the midday sun is replaced by cool air, light breezes and darkened skies. While conducting Long Term Monitoring (LTM) of the elephants the other day, a particularly strong burst of rain, obscuring our visibility from the car, forced us to wait for the storm to pass. As the rain subsided, we carried on in our pursuit of the elephants, only to see many other animals emerging from places of shelter, more readily roaming during the midday hours given the cool, wet conditions. We witnessed a group of lions walking about and an apparently pregnant cheetah emerging from the shelter of a bush. These majestic cats were slightly bedraggled after the drenching rain. Difficult for the legendary “kings and queens” of the African bush to look too regal in that state, but thrilling for us to witness nonetheless.
I am only just becoming acquainted with the Samburu elephants, but those at STE who know and love them well are so pleased to see them safely returning to a park newly covered in a layer of green with ample rivers and mud puddles for wallowing. I learned from the staff that this is an exciting time for the “eles” too. Not only are they less concerned about ensuring their families are sufficiently fed and cooled in the heat of the day, they get a chance for further exploration of new areas of the park, as resource concerns consume less of their time.
As with most things, the rains that bring innumerable benefits to life within and around the park also pose some problems for the region. The parched earth, in these early days of a rainy season, cannot adequately absorb all of the water, which can result in impassable roads and the potential for flooding. The Ewaso River has ebbed and flowed greatly during my short time here at the STE camp and what initially appeared to be a lovely riverside view from my tent turned into a fear inducing rush of water that creeps closer to my tent as the rains continue. To hear the roaring river some days is to be in awe of the power of mother nature and the rapid changes in the Samburu ecosystem, as a fairly dry river bed turns to rapids.
What a fortunate time to get to know Samburu, as it comes back to life. I will do my best in future to appreciate rain for all that it provides to the earth (even when it does interfere with my plans!).