Sunday, March 22, 2009

Meru National Park and two rip-offs


It seems as if writing a blog has both its upbeat and downbeat moments. It is a bit like an orchestra conductor.
Here is the upbeat - a picture of the yellow-necked spurfowl that I failed to get up on my last effort.

After our visit to our favourite park in all of Africa here is what I wrote to the director of the Kenya Wildlife Service.

Kenya Wildlife Service,
Box 40241 Nairobi

Dear Sir,

I write after undergoing two rather unpleasant experiences in Meru National Park. I can sum them up as a double rip-off.

The first occurred when my wife and I reached the self-help bandas at Bwatherongi. At the park gate we had paid eighty dollars per night for booking a banda and assumed that they had been upgraded considerably from our last visit as one can get quite a reasonable (although not fancy) hotel for this sum in many parts of the world. My assumption was quite wrong. The banda was basic, very basic. Two plastic chairs, one of which was in need of extensive repair and unusable, a table and two beds. No electricity, nothing much else. Our most recent accommodation of a similar nature was in Uganda’s Queen Elizabeth National Park where the hostel charged us sixteen dollars each for bed and breakfast, and we did have electricity. Your fee was five times as much for half the quality.

As we prepared our meal the inevitable troop of baboons appeared, and it was soon evident that they were going to be a pest. We could not prepare our food unless one of us was on permanent duty with stones to throw, and even then the most forward of the monkeys was never more than twenty metres away. In the 1960s, when the self-help bandas were at Leopard Rock, a staff member armed with a slingshot of the type that David used to slay Goliath kept both vervets and baboons firmly at bay. All he had to do was twirl the thing a couple of times and the monkeys took off.

The second rip-off also occurred at the bandas, but was of quite a different nature. While we were out on an evening drive the baboons contrived to rip off part of the banda’s door frame, tear open the heavy-duty insect-proof netting and get into the room. There is no weld-mesh barriers behind the netting, so access was then easy. I will leave the state of the place to your imagination, but suffice it to say that the place smelt like what it had become, a lavatory. Almost all of our food was gone, and we dined on a tin of baked beans and two slices of bread that neighbouring visitors were kind enough to give us.

The park staff were extremely helpful as they appeared with brooms and mops and did their best to tidy up the mess, but as their own food stores had also been raided – in this case by a vervet monkey, they were in no position to help with food.

I paid my first visit to Meru Park in 1966 and have been there many times since, especially in the period 1967-1975 when I carried out veterinary duties on sick and injured rhino. Our visit there this year was precisely because we have such fond memories of the area. Our memories of 2009 are vivid, but not exactly fond.

KWS needs to deal with two things. They should not rip off visitors with over-inflated prices for very basic amenities, and they should deal with the baboons by either employing a “David” or taking more drastic action such as occurs in many other African parks.

I have sent a copy of this letter to the chief warden at Meru NP and to The Daily Nation, as I believe that the situation needs to be more widely known. I look forward to hearing about the action that you will take.

Yours sincerely,

Here are two pictures of baboons. The first taken with an 80 mm zoom lens at about 20 metres near the Meru bandas, the second in Kibale National park where these monkeys are as much a pest as anywhere else in Africa.

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